May 19, 2017 – Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., Professor of Cell Biology and Neurological Surgery, and the Christine E. Lynn Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, working in The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and colleagues recently published a paper on the use of Schwann cell filled conduits to try and enhance regeneration following spinal cord injury (SCI).
The manuscript, titled Enhanced noradrenergic axon regeneration into Schwann cell-filled PVDF-TrFE conduits after complete spinal cord transection in the February 2017 Biotechnology and Bioengineering journal, reports results from study of gap-spanning conduits that contain a Schwann cell bridge.
Schwann cells are now in Miami Project FDA approved clinical trials to repair the injured human spinal cord. The Bunge laboratory is studying “helpers” to improve transplanted Schwann cell survival and effectiveness. To this end, substances in which Schwann cells are suspended for transplantation injection and materials that hold the Schwann cells to span a gap in the injured spinal cord are being investigated in a pre-clinical setting.
The conduit under study is a new type that generates electrical signals as it is moved during motion of the body. Earlier work without these conduits has shown that electrical stimulation can be beneficial for spinal cord repair. Previous work with this conduit material, PVDF-TrFE, demonstrated that it is compatible with living Schwann cells and that nerve fibers can grow on it in culture dishes and also repair peripheral nerve in the animal. The goal of this study was to determine if axons from the brain stem regenerate into the Schwann cell-laden conduits. The spinal cord was completely transected in order to know without question that axons regenerated into the conduit that was placed between the stumps of the transected spinal cord. For the first time, brainstem axons, important for locomotion were seen to regenerate into this type of conduit. Importantly, the interface between the conduit material and the spinal cord was permissive for axon regeneration into the injury/Schwann cell implant region.
“Whereas there are many types of biomaterials being tested currently to aid in the effectiveness of cell transplantation, this novel material appears promising for SCI therapy with the added advantage that it has the potential to generate helpful electrical signals,” said Dr. Bunge. While this is the first step in characterizing the therapeutic potential of these novel conduits containing Schwann cells for transplantation, their use appears promising for spinal cord repair and are worthy of continued investigation.