Hans Stegmann Keirstead, assistant professor and researcher at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, is revolutionizing medical science through work which prevents rats from suffering degenerative paralyzing effects after spinal cord injuries. Through the use of stem cells, his work may pave the way to finding a cure for paralysis in patients with spinal cord injuries. Clinical tests are expected to begin shortly.
In previous experiments, Keirstead and Tom Lane, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, developed an antibody to functionally block the effects of IP10, a key protein they identified as being responsible for the degenerate effects of multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that causes a patient’s immune system to attack the central nervous system of the body.
Experiments showed that rats induced with MS exhibit a halt in symptoms after being injected with the antibody.
These results soon led Kierstead to the idea of a direct correlation between MS and his own research on spinal cord injury. After a series of tests, preliminary results proved his suspicions: IP10 was also the major culprit involved in the degenerative effects of spinal cord injury.
After an initial trauma to the spinal cord is made, the body undergoes what is called a secondary degenerative process. Much like MS, cells enter the nervous system and destroy tissue surrounding the injury site. As a result, the initial damage increases by up to five times.
When the antibody was tested on rats with spinal cord injuries, experiments showed a 70 percent retention of tissue that would have otherwise been lost due to secondary degeneration.
‘Mice were left with only the injury they sustained, not the injury plus secondary degeneration damage,’ Keirstead said.
This antibody is now in the process of being released as a drug and is scheduled to undergo human clinical trials as early as February.
Keirstead is currently turning his efforts toward repairing the initial spinal cord trauma via the use of embryonic stem cells. As of now, Kierstead is the only professor at UCI working with embryonic stem cells. However, obtaining useful cells from stem cells has not been easy.
‘The greatest challenge in stem-cell research is to make something useful of these cells,’ Kierstead said. ‘A high-purity, clinically useful cell population
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