How the Use of ‘Smell’ Cells May Promote Spinal Cord Nerve Regeneration

In the world of spinal cord injury (SCI) research, experimental treatments and research trials are always ongoing as researchers try to find a way to “cure” the paralysis that results from traumatic spinal cord injuries. Most recently, at the University of Bristol, researchers have enjoyed success with their spinal cord research rodent test patients, showing promising results in terms of helping to regenerate their damaged spinal cord nerves.

The spinal cord is a series of nerve bundles that run vertically along the back of a person’s body and are protected by the vertebral segments of the spine. When damage is dealt to any area of the spinal cord, it can result in serious effects, including the loss of sensory and motor functions, bladder and bowel control, or even the ability for someone to breathe on their own. And, the higher that the damage occurs in the spinal cord, the more serious the injury will be.

The spinal cord research study, “Transplantation of canine olfactory ensheathing cells producing chondroitinase ABC promotes chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan digestion and axonal sprouting following spinal cord injury,” was recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

How the Study Works

The study, led by Drs. Nicolas Granger and Liang-Fong Wong, was launched to try to determine whether a conceptual treatment could be used to repair a damaged spinal cord. The idea stemmed from their previous research on olfactory ensheathing cells, which reside within the body’s “smell system.” The cells, which are responsible for helping people and animals maintain their ability to smell, are also able to repair and regenerate themselves throughout someone’s life.

As part of the study, the team successfully transplanted into lab rats some of the genetically modified cells that trigger nerve regeneration. The cells that were removed from the olfactory system were altered to secret a specific enzyme that is known as chondroitinase ABC, or ChABC. When modified, this substance helps to remove glial scar tissue at the spinal cord injury site. This build-up of scar tissue can negatively affect nerve growth abilities as well as impede the spinal cord’s ability to transmit messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

After the cells were transplanted into the rodent test subjects during the study, the research team was able to see the successful removal of some of the scar tissue via the secretion of the ChABC enzyme. This procedure resulted in greater spinal cord nerve sprouting, a process that could indicate that nerve regeneration may result from the treatment.

Although there is no cure for spinal cord injuries at this time, the research by Granger and Wong looks promising thus far and requires further study.

According to an article in the Express, Wong, who works at the Bristol Medical School, says:

“While these initial results look promising, in order to determine the longer-term survival of our genetically modified cells and assess functional recovery, such as recovery of walking or recovery of continence, we need to carry out further studies to test these cell transplants in more chronic injury models.”

Before this research can be applied to humans, says Granger, who works at the Bristol Veterinary School, he would first want to apply the treatment to dogs that have been paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.

Other Areas of SCI Clinical Research

The research by Granger, Wong, and the rest of their team is the latest of spinal cord injury research studies going on in the world. There are several relatively new developments in the field that show promise — and, we hope, will prove successful in the future.

A few other areas of SCI research include:

We’ve written extensively about spinal cord injury trials and how you can try to get involved with one of them.

To learn more about spinal cord injuries, be sure to check out our free resource by clicking on the banner below.

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