Neural stem cell transplantation - the future for nervous system conditions?

September 19, 2000

Neural stem cell transplantation has the potential to become a treatment for many conditions affecting the nervous system, including multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, delegates heard at the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology Conference in Istanbul today (Wednesday 20 September). Neural stem cells are primitive cells in fetal brain, from which other types of neural and glial cells are derived.

Preliminary data from laboratory experiments conducted in biological models have demonstrated that multi-potential neural stem cell* transplantation significantly improved radiation induced-spinal cord injury in these animals. Scientists hope that this technique could be used to prevent or treat radiation myelopathy (damage to the spinal cord), which patients can develop after receiving radiotherapy for cancer.

The technique involves injecting precursor neural cells into the irradiated region of the spinal cord of the laboratory animals. The immunosuppressive drug, cyclosporin is also given to stop the experimental animals rejecting the graft.

Dr. Mohi Rezvani from the Research Institute of the University of Oxford at Churchill Hospital, UK said that many more studies are necessary before this procedure can be used to help people with demyelinating diseases. "These diseases, in which the myelin sheath** of nerves is destroyed, are difficult to treat and pose a real challenge to doctors and scientists.

"Since this technique has worked in laboratory animals it may well work in humans too. But there is still a long way to go before we are able to try this procedure in patients".

* Multipotential neural stem cells can differentiate into neurons and glial cells. Glial cells surround neurons, providing support and electrical insulation between them.

** The myelin sheath is an insulating layer surrounding the nerve cells, that dramatically increases the speed of conduction, of electrical impulses between them.
Note for editors: The European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ESTRO) was founded in 1980 as a society of individual members working in the field of radiotherapy and oncology. It aims to improve the treatment of cancer patients by establishing the integration of radiation oncology with other methods of treatment (e.g. surgery, chemotherapy), and by establishing best practice in radiotherapy. ESTRO has more than 5000 members throughout Europe.

For further information:
Kay Roche
Mary Rice

ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation

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