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Ajay Bakshi, Corey Hunter, Sharon Swanger, Angelo Lepore and Itzhak Fischer

Object. Stem cell therapy has been shown to have considerable therapeutic potential for spinal cord injuries (SCIs); however, most experiments in animals have been performed by injecting cells directly into the injured parenchyma. This invasive technique compromises the injured spinal cord, although it delivers cells into the hostile environment of the acutely injured cord. In this study, the authors tested the possibility of delivering stem cells to injured spinal cord by using three different minimally invasive techniques.

Methods. Bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs) are clinically attractive because they have shown therapeutic potential in SCI and can be obtained in patients at the bedside, raising the possibility of autologous transplantation. In this study transgenically labeled cells were used for transplantation, facilitating posttransplantation tracking. Inbred Fisher-344 rats received partial cervical hemisection injury, and 2 × 106 BMSCs were intravenously, intraventricularly, or intrathecally transplanted 24 hours later via lumbar puncture (LP). The animals were killed 3, 10, or 14 days posttransplantation, and tissue samples were submitted to histochemical and immunofluorescence analyses. For additional comparison and validation, lineage restricted neural precursor (LRNP) cells obtained from E13.5 rat embryos were transplanted via LP, and these findings were also analyzed.

Conclusions. Both BMSCs and LRNP cells home toward injured spinal cord tissues. The use of LP and intraventricular routes allows more efficient delivery of cells to the injured cord compared with the intravenous route. Stem cells delivered via LP for treatment of SCI may potentially be applicable in humans after optimal protocols and safety profiles are established in further studies.

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Lauren Conova, Jennifer Vernengo, Ying Jin, B. Timothy Himes, Birgit Neuhuber, Itzhak Fischer, Anthony Lowman, Jennifer Vernengo, Ying Jin, B. Timothy Himes, Birgit Neuhuber, Itzhak Fischer and Anthony Lowman

Object

The authors investigated the feasibility of using injectable hydrogels, based on poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm), lightly cross-linked with polyethylene glycol (PEG) or methylcellulose (MC), to serve as injectable scaffolds for local delivery of neurotrophins and cellular transplants into the injured spinal cord. The primary aims of this work were to assess the biocompatibility of the scaffolds by evaluating graft cell survival and the host tissue immune response. The scaffolds were also evaluated for their ability to promote axonal growth through the action of released brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Methods

The in vivo performance of PNIPAAm-g-PEG and PNIPAAm-g-MC was evaluated using a rodent model of spinal cord injury (SCI). The hydrogels were injected as viscous liquids into the injury site and formed space-filling hydrogels. The host immune response and biocompatibility of the scaffolds were evaluated at 2 weeks by histological and fluorescent immunohistochemical analysis. Commercially available matrices were used as a control and examined for comparison.

Results

Experiments showed that the scaffolds did not contribute to an injury-related inflammatory response. PNIPAAm-g-PEG was also shown to be an effective vehicle for delivery of cellular transplants and supported graft survival. Additionally, PNIPAAm-g-PEG and PNIPAAm-g-MC are permissive to axonal growth and can serve as injectable scaffolds for local delivery of BDNF.

Conclusions

Based on the results, the authors suggest that these copolymers are feasible injectable scaffolds for cell grafting into the injured spinal cord and for delivery of therapeutic factors.

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Ajay Bakshi, Omar Fisher, Taner Dagci, B. Timothy Himes, Itzhak Fischer and Anthony Lowman

Object. Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a complex pathological entity, the treatment of which requires a multipronged approach. One way to integrate different therapeutic strategies for SCI is to develop implantable scaffolds that can deliver therapies in a synergistic manner. Many investigators have developed implantable “bridges,” but an important property of such scaffolds—that is, mechanical compatibility with host tissues—has been neglected. In this study, the authors evaluated the results of implanting a mechanically matched hydrogel-based scaffold to treat SCI.

Methods. A nonbiodegradable hydrogel, poly(2-hydroxyethylmethacrylate) (PHEMA), was engineered using thermally initiated free radical solution polymerization. Two groups of 12 adult Sprague—Dawley rats underwent partial cervical hemisection injury followed by implantation of either PHEMA or PHEMA soaked in 1 µg of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Four rats from each group were killed 1, 2, or 4 weeks after induction of the injury. Immunofluorescence staining was performed to determine the presence of scarring, cellular inflammatory responses, gliosis, angiogenesis, and axonal growth in and around the implanted scaffolds.

Conclusions. The implanted PHEMA with 85% water content had a compressive modulus of 3 to 4 kPa, which matched the spinal cord. Implanted PHEMA elicited modest cellular inflammatory responses that disappeared by 4 weeks and minimal scarring was noted around the matrix. Considerable angiogenesis was observed in PHEMA, and PHEMA soaked in BDNF promoted axonal penetration into the gel. The authors conclude that mechanically engineered PHEMA is well accepted by host tissues and might be used as a platform for sustained drug delivery to promote axonal growth and functional recovery after SCI.

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Birgit Neuhuber, Alissa L. Barshinger, Courtney Paul, Jed S. Shumsky, Takahiko Mitsui and Itzhak Fischer

Object

Using cellular transplants to treat spinal cord injury is a promising therapeutic strategy, but transplants grafted directly into the injury site can further damage the already compromised cord. To avoid additional trauma and to simplify translation to the clinic, it is advantageous to use less invasive delivery methods.

Methods

The authors compared the efficacy of intrathecal cell delivery at the lumbar region (lumbar puncture [LP]) to direct injection into a thoracic contusion injury using a mixed population of lineage-restricted neural precursor cells.

Results

Direct injection resulted in a higher volume of neural precursor cells located throughout the injury site, whereas fewer LP-delivered cells accumulated at the dorsal aspect of the injured cord. Both grafting methods were neuroprotective, resulting in reduction of injury size and greater tissue sparing compared with controls. Functional recovery was evaluated by assessing motor and bladder function. Animals that received cells via direct injection performed significantly better in the open-field locomotor test than did operated controls, while LP-treated animals showed intermediate recovery of function that did not differ statistically from that of either operated controls or directly injected animals. Bladder function, however, was significantly improved in both directly injected and LP-treated animals.

Conclusion

Grafting of stem cells via LP resulted in localized accumulation of cells at the injury site, neuroprotection, and modest recovery of function. Further optimization of the LP procedure by increasing the number of cells that are delivered and determining the optimal delivery schedule may further improve recovery to levels comparable to direct injection.

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Lauren Conova Grous, Jennifer Vernengo, Ying Jin, B. Timothy Himes, Jed S. Shumsky, Itzhak Fischer and Anthony Lowman

Object

In a follow-up study to their prior work, the authors evaluated a novel delivery system for a previously established treatment for spinal cord injury (SCI), based on a poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm), lightly cross-linked with a polyethylene glycol (PEG) injectable scaffold. The primary aim of this work was to assess the recovery of both spontaneous and skilled forelimb function following a cervical dorsolateral funiculotomy in the rat. This injury ablates the rubrospinal tract (RST) but spares the dorsal and ventral corticospinal tract and can severely impair reaching and grasping abilities.

Methods

Animals received an implant of either PNIPAAm-g-PEG or PNIPAAm-g-PEG + brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The single-pellet reach-to-grasp task and the staircase-reaching task were used to assess skilled motor function associated with reaching and grasping abilities, and the cylinder task was used to assess spontaneous motor function, both before and after injury.

Results

Because BDNF can stimulate regenerating RST axons, the authors showed that animals receiving an implant of PNIPAAm-g-PEG with codissolved BDNF had an increased recovery rate of fine motor function when compared with a control group (PNIPAAm-g-PEG only) on both a staircase-reaching task at 4 and 8 weeks post-SCI and on a single-pellet reach-to-grasp task at 5 weeks post-SCI. In addition, spontaneous motor function, as measured in the cylinder test, recovered to preinjury values in animals receiving PNIPAAm-g-PEG + BDNF. Fluorescence immunochemistry indicated the presence of both regenerating axons and BDA-labeled fibers growing up to or within the host-graft interface in animals receiving PNIPAAm-g-PEG + BDNF.

Conclusions

Based on their results, the authors suggest that BDNF delivered by the scaffold promoted the growth of RST axons into the lesion, which may have contributed in part to the increased recovery rate.