CIRM Grants for Neurological Disorders: Spinal Cord Projects in Progress

Stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, but developing those cures is a process that has many hurdles. Dr. Hans Keirstead has a CIRM grant to develop a treatment for spinal cord injury. He is co-director of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine. Dr Keirstead will be speaking at the Working 2 Walk 2012 Science and Advocacy Symposium.

Functional Neural Relay Formation by Human Neural Stem Cell Grafting in Spinal Cord Injury
Mark Tuszynski University of California San Diego Early Translational III: TR3-05628
Status: Active $4699569.00
Public Abstract (provided by applicant)
We aim to develop a novel stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury (SCI) that is substantially more potent than previous stem cell treatments. By combining grafts of neural stem cells with scaffolds placed in injury sites, we have been able to optimize graft survival and filling of the injury site. Grafted cells extend long distance connections with the injured spinal cord above and below the lesion, while the host spinal cord also sends inputs to the neural stem cell implants. As a result, new functional relays are formed across the lesion site. These result in substantially greater functional improvement than previously reported in animal studies of stem cell treatment. Work proposed in this grant will identify the optimal human neural stem cells for preclinical development. Furthermore, in an unprecedented step in spinal cord injury research, we will test this treatment in appropriate preclinical models of SCI to provide the greatest degree of validation for human translation. Successful findings could lead to clinical trials of the most potent neural stem cell approach to date.

Repair of Conus Medullaris/Cauda Equina Injury using Human ES Cell-Derived Motor Neurons
Leif Havton University of California Los Angeles Early Translational II: TR2-01785
Status: Active $1614441.00
(The Early Translational Awards, which are awarded annually, are intended to either lead to a drug candidate for an unmet medical need or address a bottleneck in the development of new therapies. The 20 Early Translational II awards worth $68,898,250 were awarded 10/21/10. You can learn more about the awards by reading the RFA or reading the press release, and the follow-up press release announcing additional decisions).
Public Abstract (provided by applicant)
Injuries to the spinal cord commonly result from motor vehicle accidents, traumatic falls, diving, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding accidents, other forms of sports injuries, as well as from gunshot injuries in victims of violent crimes. Injuries to the anatomically lowest part of the spinal cord, the lumbosacral portion and its associated nerve roots commonly cause paralysis, loss of sensation, severe pain, as well as loss of bladder, bowel, and sexual function. Lumbosacral injuries represent approximately one-fifth of all traumatic lesions to the human spinal cord. As a result of the direct injury to the lumbosacral portion of the spinal cord, there is degeneration and death of spinal cord nerve cells, which control muscles in the legs as well as bladder, bowel, and sexual function. No treatments are presently available in clinical practice to reverse the effects of these devastating injuries. In order to reverse the loss of function after lumbosacral spinal cord injury, replacement of the lost nerve cells is required. Recent research studies have identified some properties that are shared by spinal cord neurons responsible for muscle and bladder control. Human embryonic stem cells can now be prepared in research laboratories to develop properties that are shared between nerve cells controlling muscle and bladder function. Such nerve cells are particularly at risk of degeneration and death as a result of injuries to the lumbosacral spinal cord. Human embryonic stem cells, which have undergone treatment to obtain properties of muscle and bladder controlling nerve cells, are now very attractive development candidates for new cell replacement therapies after lumbosacral spinal cord injuries. The proposed feasibility studies will study the properties of such cells in a clinically relevant rat model for lumbosacral spinal cord injuries. In Specific Aim 1, we will determine whether ACUTE transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have been treated to develop properties of specific lumbosacral spinal cord neurons, may replace lost nerve cells and result in a return of bladder function in a rat model of lumbosacral spinal cord injury and repair. In Specific Aim 2, we will determine whether DELAYED transplantation of human embryonic stem cells, which have been treated to develop properties of specific lumbosacral spinal cord neurons, may replace lost nerve cells and result in a return of bladder function in a rat model of lumbosacral spinal cord injury and repair. A variety of functional studies will determine the effect of the cell transplantation on bladder function, walking, and pain. We will also use detailed anatomical studies to determine in microscopes whether the transplanted cells have grown processes to connect with pelvic target tissues, including the lower urinary tract. If successful, the proposed experiments may lead to a new treatment strategy for patients with lumbosacral spinal cord injuries.

Human ES cell-derived MGE inhibitory interneuron transplantation for spinal cord injury
Arnold Kriegstein University of California San Francisco Early Translational III: TR3-05606
Status: Active $1623251.00
Public Abstract (provided by applicant)
Transplantation of neuronal precursors into the central nervous system offers great promise for the treatment of neurological disorders including spinal cord injury (SCI). Among the most significant consequences of SCI are bladder spasticity and neuropathic pain, both of which likely result from a reduction in those spinal inhibitory mechanisms that are essential for normal bladder and sensory functions. Our preliminary data show that embryonic inhibitory neuron precursor cells integrate in the adult nervous system and increase inhibitory network activity. Therefore inhibitory nerve cell transplants could be a powerful way to establish new inhibitory circuits in the injured spinal cord that will reduce bladder spasticity and attenuate central neuropathic pain. We already have proof-of-principle data that murine inhibitory nerve cells integrate in the adult spinal cord and improve symptoms in an animal model of chronic spinal cord injury. We have also recently developed methods to create human inhibitory interneurons from embryonic stem cells. This proposal will capitalize on these recent developments and determine whether our human embryonic stem cell-derived inhibitory cells can be successfully transplanted into the grey matter of the injured spinal cord and reduce neurogenic bladder dysfunction and neuropathic pain, two major causes of suffering in chronic SCI patients. If successful, our studies will lay the groundwork for a potential novel therapy for chronic SCI.

Neural stem cell transplantation for chronic cervical spinal cord injury
Nobuko Uchida StemCells Inc. Disease Team II: DR2A-05736
Status: Active $20000000.00
Public Abstract (provided by applicant)
1.3 million Americans suffer chronically from spinal cord injuries (SCI); each year ~15,000 individuals sustain a new injury. For California, this means nearly 147,000 individuals are living with a SCI which can leave otherwise healthy individuals with severe deficits in movement, sensation, and autonomic function. Recovery after SCI is often limited, even after aggressive emergency treatment with steroids and surgery, followed by rehabilitation. The need to develop new treatments for SCI is pressing. We believe that stem cell therapies could provide significant functional recovery, improve quality of life, and reduce the cost of care for SCI patients. The goal of this Disease Team is to evaluate a novel cell therapy approach to SCI involving transplantation of human neural stem cells.

In 2005, the FDA authorized the world’s first clinical testing of human neural stem cell transplantation into the CNS. Since then, our research team has successfully generated clinical grade human neural stem cells for use in three clinical trials, established a favorable safety profile that now approaches five years in some subjects and includes evidence of long-term donor-cell survival. Relevant to this Disease Team, the most recent study began testing human neural stem cells in thoracic spinal cord injury. The initial group of three patients with complete injury has been successfully transplanted. The Disease Team seeks to extend the research into cervical SCI.

Neural cell transplantation holds tremendous promise for achieving spinal cord repair. In preliminary experiments, the investigators on this Disease Team showed that transplantation of both murine and human neural stem cells into animal models of SCI restore motor function. The human neural stem cells migrate extensively within the spinal cord from the injection site, promoting new myelin and synapse formation that lead to axonal repair and synaptic integrity. Given these promising proof-of-concept studies, we propose to manufacture clinical-grade human neural stem cells and execute the preclinical studies required to submit an IND application to the FDA that will support the first-in-human neural stem cell transplantation trial for cervical SCI.

Our unmatched history of three successful regulatory submissions, extensive experience in manufacturing, preclinical and clinical studies of human neural stem cells for neurologic disorders, combined with an outstanding team of basic and clinical investigators with expertise in SCI, stem cell biology, and familiarity with all the steps of clinical translation, make us an extremely competitive applicant for CIRM’s Disease Team awards. This award could ultimately lead to a successful FDA submission that will permit human testing of a new treatment approach for SCI; one that could potentially reverse paralysis and improve the patient’s quality of life.

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