New research is offering new hope to patients.
It is a discovery that could change the future for people with neurological conditions and lifelong diseases like Multiple Sclerosis or fatal conditions like ALS, or traumatic brain and spine injuries.
Scientists say they found an immune cell that can reverse damage and restore function.
The nervous system is challenging. Once nerve cells die, particularly in the brain and spinal cord, they don’t regenerate in adults.
It’s been Dr Benjamin Segal’s life’s work.
“My whole career this has been the holy grail,” he said. “There are no treatments that actually reverse damage that is already there or allow people to recover lost skill or functions. So this is a pursuit of neurologists and researchers globally.”
Now the Ohio State University neurologist and his team say at Wexner Medical Center say they may have found something.
“This new research has revealed a new cell type, a new type of white blood cell that actually rescues dying nerve cells and also stimulates them to grow new fibers when those fibers have been damaged,” Segal said. “It was a complete surprise. The cell type we had never seen before. It’s a white blood cell called a granulocyte, which is a general category of white blood cells that has not really been heavily implicated in repair in the past. So yes, it was a ‘eureka moment.’”
In the lab, the researchers used the cells to repair damage in mice models.
“We introduced the cells at the site of damage. In multiple different compartments of the central nervous system they were able to increase nerve cell survival dramatically as well as stimulate new nerve fiber growth within mice,” he said. “Which normally doesn’t occur at all in that type of injury.”
They conducted a similar experiment in a petri dish that contained human nerve cells.
“We did use human nerve cells in some of our experiments and showed that the immune cell was effective in stimulating human nerve cells to grow new fibers,” Segal said.
The next step will be working out protocols to harvest immature cells from bone marrow then stimulating them to become pro-regenerative cells.
“The idea would be to harvest bone marrow cells from people with neurological disorders, treat them in a dish so they become pro-regenerative and protective and then re-introduce them as a cell therapy into those patients,” Segal said.
The biggest challenge now is translating the lab findings to meaningful treatments. But with this discovery, doctors are one step closer to restoring the function that can have people walking forward in their own lives.