Spinal Cord Repairs: On the Horizon – Veterans Today | News – Military Foreign Affairs

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Health Editor’s Note: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most common of the adult-onset motor neuron (nerve cells located in the brain, spinal cord, and brainstem) diseases and is often referred to as Lou Gehrig disease, named after the famous baseball player who died of ALS in 1941. I refer you to an archived article written on the subject some years ago: https://www.veteranstodayarchives.com/2009/12/15/amyotrophic-lateral-sclerosis-als-what-is-this/

ALS slowly robs a person of the ability to function, to move limbs, to breath without a respirator, and eventually to live.  This is not a rare disease, with according to UC San Diego School of Medicine, it responsible for  five out of every 100,000 deaths in people who are 20 or older.  Usually this disease strikes between the ages of 40 and 70, but may come at an earlier age.  ALS is an equal opportunity disease with no racial, socioeconomic, or ethnic boundaries.  The incidence of ALS is five times greater than in Huntington’s disease and is about equal to multiple sclerosis.

As of September 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs has declared that ALS has become a presumptive compensable illness for veterans because there is a correlation between time spent in the military and the later development of this disease. Even those veterans who were previously denied compensation for ALS can receive compensation.

The topic of today’s article is that researchers for ALS have been able to step outside a perti dish and to grow spinal cord sections out of human skin cells by using new born stem cells which were placed onto thumb sized plastic tissue chips that grow into sections of spinal cord. Not only did the cells multiply, but they also began to grow blood vessel cells which grew and extended to make contact with neurons (basic cell of the nervous system) which seemed to help the neurons to fire (spark). These cellular activities are found in fetal spinal cord cells.  Typically it has not been readily possible to reproduce neurons to repair injuries to the brain and spinal cord. Neurons do not have the same ability to repair themselves as do other cells that make up the human body. It is extremely essential that any nerve cell that is grown/regenerated have a blood supply in order to continue to live/function and this tissue chip seems to allow for this and hopefully will lead to the ability to repair sections of damaged spinal cords to function again. 

I see this as a great step toward being able to repair the unrepairable. How great would it be for someone who has received a spinal cord injury, whether due to an accident or to developing diseases that affect the nervous system, and has lost the ability of sensation and to move below that area, to be able to function as he or she did before the injury. I am excited for this train of research and if the “hard to regenerate neuron” can be encouraged to grow and display normal neuron function, just think how other tissues can be generated for repairs.. …..Carol    

ALS researchers begin recreating human spinal cords on a chip

NIH-funded study closes in on personalized drug testing for neurological disorders.

Scientists moved one step closer to testing personalized treatments for neurological disorders by showing they could use organ chips to grow spinal cord sections out of human skin cells. Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute


Aided by advanced stem cell technology and tissue chips, National Institutes of Health-funded researchers used stem cells originally derived from a person’s skin to recreate interactions between blood vessels and neurons that may occur early in the formation of the fetal human spinal cord. The results published in Stem Cell Reports suggest that the system can mimic critical parts of the human nervous system, raising the possibility that it may one day, be used to test personalized treatments of neurological disorders. Activities with this new way to grow cells it that they become three dimensional and thus will be able to reproduce

Led by Samuel Sances, Ph.D., and Clive N. Svendsen, Ph.D., Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, Los Angeles, CA, the researchers first converted the stem cells into newborn spinal cord neurons or epithelial cells that line walls of brain blood vessels. In most experiments, each cell type was then injected into one of two chambers embedded side-by-side in thumb-sized, plastic tissue chips and allowed to grow. Six days after injections, the researchers found that the growing neurons exclusively filled their chambers while the growing blood vessel cells not only lined their chamber in a cobblestone pattern reminiscent of vessels in the body, but also snuck through the perforations in the chamber walls and contacted the neurons. This appeared to enhance maturation of both cell types, causing the neurons to fire more often and both cell types to be marked by some gene activity found in fetal spinal cord cells.

Tissue chips are relatively new tools for medical research and since 2012 the NIH has funded several tissue-chip projects. Unlike traditional petri dish systems, tissue chips help researchers grow cells in more life-like environments. Using microprocessor manufacturing techniques, the chambers can be built to recreate the three-dimensional shapes of critical organ parts and the tight spaces that mimic the way viscous, bodily fluids normally flow around the cells. Both factors can influence the normal growth of organs and results from this study supported this idea. The tissue chips allowed the researchers to grow neurons and blood vessels together, which was impossible to do in petri dishes. Moreover, neurons grown alone in tissue chips had firing patterns and gene activity that were more mature than cells grown in petri dishes. Although further genetic analysis suggested the tissue-chip cells were in an early stage of fetal spinal cord formation, the researchers concluded that, overall, this is a promising start for the development of chips that mimic a patient’s nervous system.


Danilo Tagle, Ph.D., program director, NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Research

Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., program director, NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Sances et al. Human iPSC-Derived Endothelial Cells and Microengineered Organ-Chip Enhance Neuronal Development, April 10, 2018, Stem Cell Reports; DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.02.012 (link is external)

This study was supported by the NIH (NS105703), the ALS Association (18-SI-389), the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (DISC1-08800). Cedars-Sinai is a minority stock holder in Emulate, Inc., the company that made the study’s organ-chip microfluidic devices, and an officer of Cedars-Sinai serves on Emulate’s Board of Directors. Emulate provided no funding for the study.

About the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS): NCATS conducts and supports research on the science and operation of translation — the process by which interventions to improve health are developed and implemented — to allow more treatments to get to more patients more quickly. For more information about how NCATS is improving health through smarter science, visit https://ncats.nih.gov.

NINDS is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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