The Stanford Partnership for Spinal Cord Injury & Repair

Spinal Cord Injury and Repair

Stem Cell Neural Repairs Gary Steinberg is able to find out what happens when stem cell derived neurons are placed in the brain in an animal model of stroke. He is spearheading investigations of the safety of this approach in people. Progress in stem cell research as well as in understanding the roles of different types of cells in the mature brain promise to change the prognosis for cases of spinal cord injury or diseases that attack the spinal cord. These disorders--such as multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and tumors or other conditions that affect the flow of messages in the brain and spinal cord--will benefit from improvements in our ability to boost repair mechanisms in the nervous system.

Glial Cells Provide Critical Support Ben Barres is providing a new emphasis on the role of the supporting cells in the nervous system called glia. These are not only nursemaids, providing sustenance and sweeping up after the neurons, but are active guides in the developing brain and spinal cord, and may be able to jump start malfunctioning elements during disease and injury. Researchers from neurobiology to bioengineering, together with clinical investigators use stem cells and other new therapeutics such as molecules that actively help nerve cells survive and repair themselves. Basic research continues to provide a body of knowledge about how growing nerve fibers find their targets, why some nerve cells fail to do so, and what signals lead to good nerve growth and recovery of function. Other routes to mending spinal cord defects already include the ability to stimulate the spinal cord electrically, and to use computer technology and nerve signal analysis to command advanced prosthetics, allowing people to perform daily skills.

Improving Functional and Anatomical Outcomes Giles Plant is leading investigations into the efficacy of human neural stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) lines to improve functional outcomes in animal models of cervical spinal cord injury. SPSC's spinal cord injury and repair effort interacts closely with the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and the clinicians performing research and providing treatment at the Spinal Injury Units of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.