Spinal cord implants give hope that people with paralysis can walk again

Using human cells engineered to create the world’s first 3D spinal cord tissues, scientists were able to repair the spinal cords of injured mice, offering the promise of a solution that allows people with long-term paralysis to regain the ability to walk, according to a study released earlier this month from Tel Aviv University.

Scientists took fatty tissue from a human and reprogrammed it by “mimicking the embryonic development of the spinal cord in a 3D dynamic biomaterial-based microenvironment,” said their report in Advanced Science. The biomaterial was put through a process to turn it into a personalized hydrogel, into which the embryonic-like iPSC cells, a type of stem cell, were then encapsulated, allowing them to differentiate into a 3D spinal cord network, according to the report. The hydrogel constantly adapts and develops, “providing a dynamic inductive microenvironment that allows for the assembly and maturation of a functional spinal cord implant,” the report said.

The mice showed improvements in movement and analysis of their spinal tissue showed that regeneration was taking place, the report said.

‘Rapid rehabilitation’

“The model animals underwent a rapid rehabilitation process, at the end of which they could walk quite well,” Dr. Tal Dvir, who was involved in the study and heads Regenerative Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University, was quoted as saying in The Jerusalem Post. “This is the first instance in the world in which implanted engineered human tissues have generated recovery in an animal model for long-term chronic paralysis, which is the most relevant model for paralysis treatments in humans.”

The researchers, who reported holding talks with the FDA regarding the preclinical program, said they hope to progress to clinical trials of this advanced, organ-engineering technology in regenerative medicine in humans within the next few years.

“Since we are proposing an advanced technology in regenerative medicine, and since at present there is no alternative for paralyzed patients, we have good reason to expect relatively rapid approval of our technology,” Dr. Dvir told The Jerusalem Post. “Our goal is to produce personalized spinal cord implants for every paralyzed person, enabling regeneration of the damaged tissue with no risk of rejection.”

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