According to a study conducted at the University of Toronto in Canada and published in the journal Stem Cell Reports transplantation with injectable hydrogel stem cells can help the brain recover after stroke and can also partially reverse blindness.
Stem cells have the ability of turning into any type of tissue and thus can completely cure brain and nerve injuries. However the problem with stem cells is that they often do not survive. The Canadian researchers used cells encapsulated in hydrogel, a jelly like substance which enabled the cells to survive. They applied the hydrogel stem cells on mice.
The hydrogel consists of methylcellulose and hyaluronan. The first compound, methylcellulose, forms a gel which holds the stem cells together while the transplant is delivered, whereas the second compound, hyaluronan, ensures that the stem cells survive.
Bio-engineer Molly Shoichet said that with the blend of the two compounds they got the best of both worlds. According to neurobiologist Derek van der Kooy such a cell-delivery vehicle could be used for anything.
In order to test how beneficial the hydrogel was the researchers performed stem cell transplantation on mice for nerve cell damage caused by injury or disease.
In the case of blind mice the researchers used stem cells to grow photoreceptors, which are cells in the eye’s retina sensitive to light. They are responsible for vision. When the blind mice were injected with hydrogel-encapsulated photoreceptors the pupillary response was 15% restored which means that the vision of the mice was partially restored.
For the experiment involving mice which had experienced brain damage caused by recent stroke the scientists encapsulated progenitor cells and neural cell stems in hydrogel and injected them into the brains of the rodents. In a couple of weeks the mice were reported to have an improved motor coordination.
Shoichet commented on the findings of the study:
“This study goes one step further, showing that the hydrogels do more than just hold stem cells together; they directly promote stem cell survival and integration. This brings stem-cell based therapy closer to reality.”
In the future the researchers intend to test the hydrogel stem cells on rats which have experienced stroke injury because the brain of the rats is bigger and is more useful for behavioral tests. In addition, since the hydrogel increased the effectiveness when used both on the eye and the brain which are different parts of the nervous system, the researchers hope that this discovery will also prove effective across a wide range of body areas.
Image Source: UC San Diego News Center