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28 May 2015
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Stem Cell Transplantation Repairs Brain Damage and Blindness in Mice

Scientists at Toronto found that stem cell transplantation that help to reverse blindness and restore brain activity following stroke in laboratory mice can be boosted by use of hydrogel.

Stem cells are successfully used in various clinical trials to treat medical conditions like Leukemia, lymphomas, sickle cell anaemia, Alzheimer’s, tissue regeneration, congenital heart diseases, brain damage, respiratory conditions etc. However, some stem cell transplantation procedures have setbacks like stem cells find it hard to fuse with the surroundings (inside the body) or the cells often die. The scientists from Toronto tackled this issue using hydrogel; they combined the stem cells with hydrogel and injected it into mice models to treat blindness and brain damage.

The study was conducted by lead scientists Molly Shoichet and Derek Van Der Kooy at the University of Toronto, Canada and the research finding was published in the science journal, Stem Cell Reports.

How does it work?

Hydrogel is an injectable gel like substance, which has 2 components: methylcellulose and hyaluranon. Methylcellulose forms a gel which holds the stem cells together till it reaches the transportation site and hyaluranon prolongs the lifespan of the stem cells, thus they can integrate better with the tissue.

Initially, the scientists grew photoreceptors, the light sensitive cells of the retina (inner layer of the eye responsible for vision) from stem cells and encapsulated them in the hydrogel. The encapsulated hydrogel was injected in to the eyes of blind mice. By injecting the stem cells, mice restored 15% of pupillary response which in turn restored partial vision. In the next part of the study, scientists enveloped neural stem cells and progenitor cells within hydrogel and injected them into the mice with brain damage due to stroke. In few weeks, the mice restored its motor coordination which means recovery from brain damage.

Shoichet said that the study goes one step further as the hydrogel does more than just holding stem cells but also help in stem cell survival and integration. This brings stem cell therapy a step closer to reality. The researchers believe that this technique has the potential to use stem cell therapy to treat diseases across a wide range of body regions.

Such new advancements in the field of stem cell therapy deliver hope for researchers and patients looking for new treatment options.

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