The idea of our research is to develop treatment methods based on utilizing stem cell technology and inherently supporting intrinsic repair mechanisms to achieve healing of injuries or diseases of the nervous system so that affected patients can regain important neurological functions.
The goal of our projects is to develop new techniques for treating injuries or diseases in the CNS. There are already several examples of reconstructive neurosurgery that are aimed at recovering neurological functions. For example, cervical spinal cord injuries with rotavulsions can be repaired to some extent by peripheral nerve grafting which is implanted in the spinal cord. Hard-to-treat tremor for example Parkinson’s disease is another example that can be successfully treated with deep brain electrodes. Further examples are core operations with by-pass technology or stent, which aim to improve blood flow to the brain and thereby reduce the risk of stroke.
In an experimental environment, our group has further developed the idea of repairing damaged spinal cord by bridging the injury area with peripheral nerve graft. We have shown that axons can grow over the damage area through these grafts. With the help of neurophysiology, we have been able to show that regeneration after 3 months establishes contact between the cerebral cortex and the lower limb muscles. These results are now the basis for a clinical study that will be initiated in collaboration with the Miami Project to cure paralysis.
Thus, the above examples of peripheral nerve graft microsurgical techniques can be used to some extent to restore neurological functions. However, as a rule, cell death, particularly dead neurons and oligodendroglia, constitutes a significant obstacle to the recurrence of neurological failure. However, stem cell research in the neuroscience field has changed our view of the possibility of replacing dead cells in the nervous system.
Our group has, for many years, studied human stem / progenitor cells from adult patients’ brains and demonstrated that these cells can be cultured, multiplied and differentiated into mature neurons in cell cultures. We have also developed experimental stem cell models where, among other things, we have shown results from a genetically modified rat strain, where existing stem cells in the CNS express the green fluorescent protein GFP. These so-called green stem cells are then transplanted to the hypoglossal nucleus of the brain stem of genetically adjacent sibs that do not express GFP.
The transplanted cells have been shown to have good survival in this model. They are also highly differentiated to new nerve cells that are integrated into the host animal’s nervous system with new synapses and axonal growth. These transplantation techniques are now being developed against new treatment options for patients affected by eg spinal cord injury. To sum up, our group focuses on research on repairing the damaged nervous system with microsurgical techniques in combination with cell therapy.