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Stem Cells Rescue Damaged Nerves

They can do the job up to six months after injury, researchers add

TUESDAY, Oct. 21, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Stem cells help rescue damaged nerve fibers up to six months after an injury, say researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

They determined that stem cells supply key nutritive molecules and protect nerve fibers against harmful molecules. This lets nerves regenerate for as long as six months following an injury.

The research was done in rats, using stem cells from mice. The findings were presented Oct. 21 at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association in San Francisco.

"This is the first demonstration of regeneration in chronically denervated nerves," lead author Dr. Ahmet Hoke says in a prepared statement.

In rats, Ahmet and his colleagues attached a freshly cut nerve to one that had been cut six months before and allowed to deteriorate. After attaching the fresh nerve, they transplanted stem cells from the nervous system of mice into the area of the nerve repair.

The mice stem cells were genetically engineered to make a growth factor called GDNF.

Along with successful physical regeneration of the nerves, the muscles controlled by the nerves achieved about a 25 percent return of function.

"Our study gives insight into possible mechanisms of regeneration in chronically denervated nerves, but there's much to do. We'd like to improve the recovery of nerve function so it's higher than 25 per cent. We also need to identify exactly what combination of growth factors and other proteins/enzymes are missing in chronically denervated nerves," Hoke says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about spinal cord injuries.

SOURCE: American Neurological Association, news release, Oct. 21, 2003
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