Spinal cord injury is a debilitating condition for which there is currently no effective treatment let alone cure. Stem cell based therapies represent a viable approach but much more need to be understood before we can develop an effective stem cell based treatment for spinal cord injury. A particular important question is how the transplanted cells interact with the host environment to influence the establishment of connections between transplanted nerve cells and the host nervous system. The nervous system distinguishes itself from the rest of our body based on the requirement for intricate connections between nerve cells that are required for proper function. Thus, it is particularly challenging to develop stem cell based nerve cell replacement therapies. Our proposed study will help elucidate how transplanted stem cell-derived nerve cells grow processes for long distance in the normally growth-inhibitory adult central nervous system, an important step towards functional rewiring and nervous system repair. Results from this study will have important implications for developing both stem cell and non-stem cell based therapies for spinal cord injury and a variety of other neurological conditions.
Statement of Benefit to California:
Neurological conditions affect millions of Californians each year. Spinal cord injury is one particularly debilitating neurological condition. The disability, loss of earning power, and loss of personal freedom associated with spinal cord injury is devastating for the injured individual, and creates a financial burden of an estimated $400 million annually for the state of California. Research is the only solution as currently there is no cure for spinal cord injury. The major underlying problem for lost function is the loss of connections between neurons after spinal cord injury. Stem cell based transplantation is one possible way to repair damaged nerve paths. Our proposal looks at a critical and widely applicable aspect of stem cell transplants: the interaction between stem cell transplants and the environment in the host that make it possible for the transplanted cells to make meaningful connections with host neurons. This will have important implications in the design of stem cell based treatment for spinal cord injury and many other neurological conditions because making appropriate neuronal connections is important for successful stem cell based therapies for a variety of diseases in the nervous system. Our proposed research will eventually help develop treatment to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injury and decrease the financial burden for the State of California.