Glial scar ablation and neural Progenitor Cells for SCI. Ann is the director of spinal neurosurgery and an assistant professor at the U of M.

Title of Talk: Potential Beneficial Mechanisms of Translated Cells in SCI

Replacement of damaged cells, protection from further injury from inflammation and other processes — (which is called neuroprotection), creation of a favorable environment for regeneration, and demyelination.

Hey, she says we don’t know exactly why neural progenitor cells work when they do work. She was running one of the sites where people got neural stem cell transplants in the study Stephen Huhn told us about yesterday. Right now has a slide up describing the various kinds of cells, their sources, etc. It’s all in the book! Don’t Call It a Miracle.

We have cells from adults, fetuses, and embryos.

We have Schwann cells, Olfactory ensheathing cells, bone marrow or blood cells, and neural stem/progenitor cells ….the last ones are believed to be the only ones that actual could REPLACE damaged cells.

Talking about clinical, where there are 31 studies listed around the world for SCI, 11 of which are actively recruiting — 3 of them in the USA.

Who cares about neural stem cells? We do. They self-renew and they can turn into only 3 things — 3 cell types. And the 3 cell types are the ones that make up the central nervous system. Those 3 types are called neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes.

Why not just transplant neurons if you can use neural stem cells? Because neurons don’t replicate. Stem cells do. In her lab they started out working on what they call oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) — these are the cells that turn into regular oligodendrocytes, which matters because these cells put the “insulation” on surviving axons.

In her lab they also happened to build some neural stem cells, sort of as a by product. More on that in a minute.

Okay. So what they’re working on now is taking adult skin cells, turning those cells back into embryonic-like cells using genetic methods, it makes sense to go through all that trouble because a cell taken from your own skin will be much safer.

Hmmm. It turns out that where you put a neural progenitor stem cell determines which of the 3 cells it turns into …. put ‘em in the brain & they turn into neurons. Put ‘em in the cord and they turn into astrocytes. So they wanted to use cells that were only going to become oligodendrocyte progenitors.

It took them a few years, but they got this working and transplanted them into mice successfully. Great! Move to humans … that, she says, turns out to be really, really hard. Talking about how to replicate the situation in a developing cord during gestation. They accidentally grew some motor neurons instead — and then eventually figured out how to make OPCs.

Cool. This woman is talking very fast & I’ll just say that I couldn’t possibly get the gist of this if I didn’t already understand it …

She’s describing an issue that many labs have run into when it comes to creating cell lines, which is that they have to be pure. Hers are. And they can be made in about 40 days. The next step is to put these cells into a spinal cord model and then show that they survive. They’ve put human cells into an injured rat cord already and shown that 95% of the transplanted cells survive and act like oligodendrocytes.

Right now they’re moving their technology to a commercial-quality lab on the campus of the U of M.

The plan is to have a person come in, give up some skin cells, wait while those cells get processed to become OPCs, then come back and get the cells transplanted.

Well then. We all know that this therapy hasn’t been all that great for chronic injuries, and she has a plan to deal with that. They’ve partnered with the Spinal Cord Society to add what’s called scar-ablation therapy. It’s this stuff that you put into the place where the glial scar exists, shine a light on it, and watch the scar disappear.


The stuff is called Rose-Bengal. They’re in the middle of trying out 3 possible iterations of it and analyzing their data. What they have — I’ll spare you the numbers — looks promising in the sense that the markers they can identify all show things moving in a good direction.

Also — strangely — there’s something they don’t understand happening in the cord as a result of the ablation process: increased serotonin at the site of the injections.

Thanks her team and the people who have funded this work, including the good people of MN and the legislators who responded to Matt’s team’s work.