Led by Dr. Shulamit Levenberg, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the researchers implanted human stem cells into rats with a complete spinal cord transection. The stem cells, which were derived from the membrane lining of the mouth, were induced to differentiate into support cells that secrete factors for neural growth and survival.
The work involved more than simply inserting stem cells at various intervals along the spinal cord. The research team also built a three-dimensional scaffold that provided an environment in which the stem cells could attach, grow and differentiate into support cells. This engineered tissue was also seeded with human thrombin and fibrinogen, which served to stabilize and support neurons in the rat's spinal cord.
5 of 12 rats (42%) treated with the induced constructs demonstrated BBB scores exceeding 17, a compiled reflection of improved coordinated gait, plantar placement, weight support, recovery of toe clearance, trunk stability, and predominant parallel paw and tail position, suggesting regained cortical motor control.