In a new study, researchers provide new hope for recovery from degenerative neurological diseases—such as ALS and multiple sclerosis—as well as from damage caused by traumatic brain and spine injuries and stroke.
They discovered a new type of immune cell that not only rescues damaged nerve cells from death but partially reverses nerve fiber damage.
They also identified a human immune cell line, with similar characteristics, that promotes nervous system repair.
The research was conducted by a team at The Ohio State University and elsewhere.
The cell discovered by these researchers is a granulocyte, a type of white blood cell that has small granules. The most common granulocytes, neutrophils, normally help the body fight off infection.
The unique cell type resembles an immature neutrophil but is distinctive in possessing neuroprotective and neuroregenerative properties.
It drives central nervous system axon (nerve) regrowth in vivo, in part through the secretion of a cocktail of growth factors.
The researchers found that this pro-regenerative neutrophil promotes repair in the optic nerve and spinal cord, demonstrating its relevance across CNS compartments and neuronal populations.
A human cell line with characteristics of immature neutrophils also exhibited neuro-regenerative capacity, suggesting that our observations might be translatable to the clinic.
Researchers demonstrated the therapeutic potency of the immature neutrophils subset by injecting them into mice with a crush injury to the optic nerve or lacerated nerve fibers in the spinal cord.
Mice injected with the new neutrophil subset, but not more typical mature neutrophils, grew new nerve fibers.
The next step is to harness this cell and expand it in a lab to enhance its healing effects. Researchers hope these cells can then be injected into patients to improve function and mobility and slow or stop the progressive neurological decline.
One author of the study is Dr. Benjamin Segal, a professor, and chair of the Department of Neurology.
The study is published in the journal Nature Immunology.
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