Although they have not yet achieved their goal, scientists are moving closer to offering tangible hope to victims of spinal cord injury. At Red's Spinal Cord Research Laboratory, part of the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, Giles Plant and his team of researchers are achieving encouraging results using a new cell type drawn from human bone marrow.
The achievements are the result of two years' collaboration with Associate Professor Paul Simmons and Dr David Haylock from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Dr Plant said Paul Simmons and David Haylock had isolated a human bone marrow stromal cell – similar to a stem cell – from human patients. Dr Plant said his team had taken stromal cells from the hips of four patients with spinal cord injuries. "David and Paul have grown them in culture then purified them using a cell sorting system," he said. Postdoctoral Fellow Stuart Hodgetts then used the frozen cells in experiments with rats.
He dropped a small rod on a rat's spinal cord to create a compressive/contusive injury similar to that suffered by humans. "The injured animals can't walk in a co-ordinated way and have trouble supporting their weight," Dr Plant said. "Seven days after the injury, we thaw the frozen cells and inject them into the spinal cords of these rats. "We then see very significant behavioural improvements. The rats can support their weight, have partial co-ordination and better walking capacity." Dr Plant said the same experiment was done on rats suffering month-old injuries. "We injected the cells and were pleased to find we were getting the same results whether the injury was seven days old or a month old," Dr Plant said.
The Spinal Cord Society of Australia-funded study is ongoing. Dr Plant said they still had to determine how the injected cells affected damaged pathways. Dr Plant's work has been strongly motivated by having a friend who suffered spinal cord injury and he is optimistic of a scientific breakthrough. "The smallest improvement can make a world of difference to people paralysed by spinal cord injuries because it can give them increased independence," he said. Photo (above): Paul Ricketts-DUIT Multimedia