Wednesday, August 13, 2014 Programmed Stem Cells Grow Axons, Connect With Brain in Rats With SCI Neurons developed from adult human stem cells and grafted into rats with spinal injuries have produced nerve cells with axons that have grown "virtually over the entire length" of the rat's central nervous system. The success of the cells, derived from an 86-year-old man, support the idea that "intrinsic neuronal mechanisms" can overcome the barriers to growth associated with the injured adult spinal cord. "While many experimental efforts have attempted to overcome the inhibitory nature of the [central nervous system], a cell in the proper growth state can still extend axons, even in this inhibitory milieu," said senior author Mark Tusznyski, MD, PhD. The successful growth was reported online in the August 7 issue of Neuron (abstract and video abstract only available for free). The procedure began with the conversion of skin cells from a healthy 86-year-old man into induced pluripotent stems cells (IPSCs), which can be programmed to become nearly any kind of cell. After programming the IPSCs to become nerve cells, the cells were grafted into rats with 2-week-old spinal injuries. At the 3-month mark, researchers examined the injury sites to find mature neurons and axonal growth that even extended to the brain and connected with existing rat neurons. Despite the growth and connections, researchers were not able to achieve recovery of function in the rats. Though the growth is encouraging, Tusznyski said, "many questions remain" about how to target and control that growth. "Can this, for example, be shaped by rehabilitation?" he asked. APTA has several resources on managing patients with spinal cord injury (SCI). Offerings include a clinical summary in PTNow, continuing education courses in the APTA Learning Center, and a "pocket guide" on physical fitness for individuals with SCI. Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.