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Edward D. Wirth III, Daniel P. Theele, Thomas H. Mareci, Douglas K. Anderson, Stacey A. Brown, and Paul J. Reier

✓ Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging was evaluated for its possible diagnostic application in determining the survival of fetal central nervous system tissue grafts in the injured spinal cord. Hemisection cavities were made at the T11—L1 level of eight adult female cats. Immediately thereafter, several pieces of tissue, either obtained from the fetal cat brain stem on embryonic Day 37 (E-37), from the fetal neocortex on E-37, or from the fetal spinal cord on E-23, were implanted into the cavities made in seven cats. The eighth cat served as a control for the effect of the lesion only. In another group of four animals, a static-load compression injury was made at the L-2 level. Seven weeks later, the lesion was resected in three cases and fragments of either fetal brainstem or spinal cord tissue were introduced. A small cyst was observed in a fourth cat in the compression injury group and a suspension of dissociated E-23 brain-stem cells was injected into this region of cavitation without disturbing the surrounding leptomeninges. Five months to 2 years posttransplantation, MR imaging was performed with a 2.0-tesla VIS imaging spectrometer by acquiring multislice spin-echo images (TR 1000 msec, TE 30 msec) in both the transverse and sagittal planes.

Collectively, these intermediate-weighted images revealed homogeneous, slightly hyperintense signals at the graft site relative to the neighboring host tissue in seven of the 11 graft recipients. Two of the remaining four cats exhibited signals from the graft site that were approximately isointense with the adjacent host spinal cord, and the final two cats and the lesion-only control presented with very hypointense transplant/resection regions. The hyperintense and isointense images were tentatively interpreted as representing viable graft tissue, whereas the hypointense transplant/resection sites were considered to be indicative of a lack of transplant survival or the absence of tissue in the lesion-only control animal.

Postmortem gross inspection of fixed specimens and light microscopy verified the MR findings in the control animal in 10 of the 11 graft recipients by showing either transplants and/or cysts corresponding to the MR images obtained. In one cat in the hemisection group, histological analysis revealed a very small piece of graft tissue that was not detected on the MR images. Therefore, it is suggested that within certain spatial- and contrast-resolution limits, MR imaging can reliably detect the presence of transplanted neural tissue in both the hemisected and compression-injured spinal cord of living animals. Thus, MR imaging can serve as an important adjunct to histological, electrophysiological, and long-term behavioral analyses of graft-mediated anatomical and functional repair of the injured spinal cord. It is further suggested that this noninvasive diagnostic approach offers many advantages in terms of the judicious and optimum use of valuable animal models, and that these findings address an important prerequisite (in situ verification of transplant survival) for any future clinical trials involving these or equivalent neural tissue grafting approaches, when such are warranted.

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Richard G. Fessler, Charles Y. Liu, Stephen McKenna, R. David Fessler, Jane S. Lebkowski, Catherine A. Priest, and Edward D. Wirth III

OBJECTIVE

This study was conducted as a final proof-of-safety direct injection of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells into the uninjured spinal cord prior to translation to the human clinical trials.

METHODS

In this study, 107 oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (LCTOPC1, also known as AST-OPC1 and GRNOPC1) in 50-μL suspension were injected directly into the uninjured spinal cords of 8 immunosuppressed Göttingen minipigs using a specially designed stereotactic delivery device. Four additional Göttingen minipigs were given Hanks’ Balanced Salt Solution and acted as the control group.

RESULTS

Cell survival and no evidence of histological damage, abnormal inflammation, microbiological or immunological abnormalities, tumor formation, or unexpected morbidity or mortality were demonstrated.

CONCLUSIONS

These data strongly support the safety of intraparenchymal injection of LCTOPC1 into the spinal cord using a model anatomically similar to that of the human spinal cord. Furthermore, this research provides guidance for future clinical interventions, including mechanisms for precise positioning and anticipated volumes of biological payloads that can be safely delivered directly into uninjured portions of the spinal cord.

Open access

Stephen L. McKenna, Reza Ehsanian, Charles Y. Liu, Gary K. Steinberg, Linda Jones, Jane S. Lebkowski, Edward Wirth III, and Richard G. Fessler

OBJECTIVE

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the safety of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (LCTOPC1) derived from human pluripotent stem cells administered between 7 and 14 days postinjury to patients with T3 to T11 neurologically complete spinal cord injury (SCI). The rationale for this first-in-human trial was based on evidence that administration of LCTOPC1 supports survival and potential repair of key cellular components and architecture at the SCI site.

METHODS

This study was a multisite, open-label, single-arm interventional clinical trial. Participants (n = 5) received a single intraparenchymal injection of 2 × 106 LCTOPC1 caudal to the epicenter of injury using a syringe positioning device. Immunosuppression with tacrolimus was administered for a total of 60 days. Participants were followed with annual in-person examinations and MRI for 5 years at the time of this report and will be followed with annual telephone questionnaires for 6 to 15 years postinjection. The primary endpoint was safety, as measured by the frequency and severity of adverse events related to the LCTOPC1 injection, the injection procedure, and/or the concomitant immunosuppression administered. The secondary endpoint was neurological function as measured by sensory scores and lower-extremity motor scores as measured by the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury examinations.

RESULTS

No unanticipated serious adverse events related to LCTOPC1 have been reported with 98% follow-up of participants (49 of 50 annual visits) through the first 10 years of the clinical trial. There was no evidence of neurological decline, enlarging masses, further spinal cord damage, or syrinx formation. MRI results during the long-term follow-up period in patients administered LCTOPC1 cells showed that 80% of patients demonstrated T2 signal changes consistent with the formation of a tissue matrix at the injury site.

CONCLUSIONS

This study provides crucial first-in-human safety data supporting the pursuit of future human embryonic stem cell–derived therapies. While we cannot exclude the possibility of future adverse events, the experience in this trial provides evidence that this cell type can be well tolerated by patients, with an event-free period of up to 10 years. Based on the safety profile of LCTOPC1 obtained in this study, a cervical dose escalation trial was initiated (NCT02302157).

Free access

Tobias Prasse and Christoph P. Hofstetter