Paralyzed rats with severed spinal cords are walking again, after Tel Aviv University and Technion–Israel Institute of Technology scientists restored their nervous function and sensation through tissue engineering and stem cells taken from the oral mucosa membrane of the mouth, Haaretz recently reported.
The research was led by Prof. Daniel Offen of TAU's Sackler School of Medicine and Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, Dean of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion.
Significant progress has been made in the world of rehabilitation and other areas such as neuronal transplants and tissue engineering, but the effects of a fully severed spinal cord have never been reversed before. “This is the first time that stem cells restored feeling in limbs and complex motor ability, including fast walking, in a significant way, within only a few weeks,” Prof. Levenberg says.
The researchers grew tissues to connect the two severed ends of the spinal cord of rats and produced new stem cells to restore sensitivity and motor function. They first isolated mature stem cells from the mouth and then harnessed tissue engineered by Prof. Levenberg. After this, the researchers placed the stem cells on a three-dimensional scaffold, a sort of skeleton made of organic materials. The third stage utilized Prof. Offen's research to infuse the cells with growth factors that led them to secrete proteins to support the renewed production of neurons. Finally, in the fourth stage, the researchers implanted the engineered tissues in the rats.
The process restored the coordination, motor capabilities and ability to walk among 42 percent of the test rats within three weeks. The rats began walking normally again, even without training or rehabilitation.