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UNIST Develops Customized Stem Cells to Treat Spinal Cord Injuries

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28 October 2015
Michael Herh

A team of Korean researchers developed a new technology to produce customized stem cells that can be used in the treatment of severe diseases, such as a spinal cord injuries. A team led by professor Kim Jeong-beom of the Bio Science Division at the Ulsan Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) announced on Oct. 27 that his team successfully developed oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) by utilizing one particular gene.

An OPC is a spinal cord cell which is composed of myelin, a protective layer that surrounds spinal nerves. The use of this cell can regenerate myelin destroyed due to spinal cord injuries and finally lead to the treatment of damaged spinal cords. The research team attempted direct reprogramming with OPCs by injecting the gene Oct4 to skin cells, a core gene of a stem cell.

Direct reprogramming differentiates a desired stem cell from skin cells. An OPC differentiated through this technology cannot turn into a cancer cell or a teratoma, since the OPC does not go through a pluripotent state where it can differentiate into all kinds of cells.

The research team directly proved its genetic stability and treatment effects by way of ten months of animal tests. “It took four years for us to publish our thesis after proving the characteristics of the cell and its treatment effects,” Professor Kim said.

“This means we developed a new cell production technology that overcomes the limitations of current OPC production methods,” Professor Kim continued. “The go-ahead was given to the treatment of refractory diseases.” These research results will lead to methods to treat patients with spinal cord injuries with the addition of bio 3D printing technology that produces biological tissues with a 3D printer.

“We will produce spinal cord tissues with a bio 3D printer and the produced OPC. The direct transplantation of the spinal tissues in damaged parts of patients will maximize the efficiency of spinal cord injuries,” Kim added. “When the Ulsan Hospital for Industrial Disaster Victims opens, its technological commercialization will be possible. So this technology will contribute to treating and rehabilitating patients with injured spinal cords.” The research results appeared in the online edition of the journal of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).