MEDICAL SCIENCE: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Nerve cells used in spinal cord regeneration trial
, July 27, 2002
Brisbane's Griffith University and the Princess Alexandra Hospital have announced that a clinical trial into spinal cord regeneration surgery in paraplegics has begun in Queensland.
Nerve cells harvested from the nose of a volunteer patient with paraplegia, have been cultured in a laboratory and were transplanted into the patient's spinal cord in an eight-hour surgical procedure in June 2002.
The human trial, involving eight volunteer patients, aims to determine the safety of this pioneering procedure and the potential benefits to those who have suffered a recent spinal injury.
Over recent years, much exploratory work has been done on these cells, called glial cells, which have been found to have an important role in the development and regeneration of the nervous system.
The experiment rebuts claims that embryonic stem cells alone are suitable for spinal injury, a claim made by actor Christopher Reeve, who became a quadriplegic after falling from a horse.
Reeve, who played Superman before suffering his injury, has vigorously supported embryonic stem cell research as a cure for spinal cord injury.
At Griffith University, scientists Dr Francois Feron and Professor Alan Mackay-Sim have pioneered a method of harvesting and cultivating these nerve cells from inside the nose.
Unlike other cells in the nervous system, these unique cells are continually regenerated throughout life by the olfactory mucosa - the nasal tissue responsible for the sense of smell.
These cells help nerves grow from the nose to the brain and are the only glial cells that can exist both within and outside the central nervous system.
Princess Alexandra Hospital Spinal Injuries Unit Director, Dr Tim Geraghty, said the cells used in the trial would be cultured from cells harvested from each of the volunteer patients.
"During the intricate surgery, the patient's spinal cord is implanted with his/her own cells, thereby eliminating the risk of cell rejection and the need for anti-rejection medication," he said.
Dr Geraghty said the aim of the Phase 1 trial was to assess potential risks and determine the benefits to the patients, who have been carefully selected for the trial and have undergone extensive preparation, including physical, psychological, and neurological assessments.
"The volunteer patients, (test and control groups), will take part in the trial and their progress will be closely monitored by PAH's medical, surgical, and allied health teams for a period of up to three years."
From the Griffith University School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, Dr Francois Feron and Professor Alan Mackay-Sim have been exploring their methodology and potential application with physicians for approximately two years.
Dr Feron and Professor Mackay-Sim are internationally regarded as experts in the field of neurogenesis and have been successfully cultivating glial cells in the laboratory in Brisbane since 1998.
The trial has been approved by ethics committees at the Princess Alexandra Hospital and Griffith University.