Researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed an innovative technology that uses stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries. The technique used 3D-printed nerve stem cells to repair an injury site on the spine, allowing signals to travel up and down the spine successfully.
When a segment of the spine is damaged, it can shut down communication between the brain and different parts of the body, leading to paralysis. In most cases, the body cannot repair the damaged nerve cells in the spine by itself.
This new technology uses a silicon guide that is covered in 3D-printed neuronal stem cells. The guide is implanted into the patient’s spine, where the stem cells develop into nerves, establishing new connections with other nerves in the spine. Once the nerves are connected in the spine, the patient can regain some motor function and sense of touch.
There are also gene therapy treatments being developed which will break down scar tissue and regenerate nerves in the spine. These techniques may be used in conjunction with 3D-Printed nerve stem cells.
The Minnesota research team created this new technology using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSCs are powerful cells that are capable of turning into other types of cells. They are generated from a patient’s skin or blood cells, which means they will not be rejected by the patient’s immune system after being transplanted.
After the iPSCs are created from skin or blood cells, they are manipulated to change into neuronal stem cells. These cells are used to coat a 3D-printed device made from silicone. After being implanted at the site of the injury, the neuronal stem cells grow into nerves and make new connections.
While it is a challenge to keep the neuronal stem cells alive, the researchers believe the procedure will be a success when tested in clinical trials.