Researchers on the path to finding a cure for spina bifida have identified specific elements in stem cell secretions as key to protecting neurons and ultimately reducing the lower-limb paralysis associated with the birth defect. Those elements are exosomes (sub-cellular, membrane-bound vesicles that can transfer molecules from cell to cell) and a small carbohydrate-binding protein known as galectin 1. The research team will use the results to optimize the neuroprotective qualities of a stem cell treatment they have developed to improve the mobility issues associated with spina bifida. The new results were published online on February 12, 2019 in The FASEB Journal. The study was led by Aijun Wang (photo), PhD, Co-Director of the UC Davis Health Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory, and the article is titled “Neuroprotective Effect of Placenta-Derived Mesenchymal Stromal Cells: Role of Exosomes.” UC Davis Health fetal surgeon, and study co-author Diana Farmer, MD, Chair of the UC Davis Department of Surgery, first showed that prenatal surgery reduces neurological defects in children with spina bifida, which occurs when the spinal cord does not properly close before birth. Children with the condition experience a range of lifelong cognitive, urological, musculoskeletal and motor disabilities. Dr. Farmer, and Dr. Wang, her chief collaborator, later showed that prenatal surgery combined with human placenta-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (PMSCs) improved hind limb control in lab animals and dogs with spina bifida. Dr. Farmer is a Diana Farmer is a leader in research and surgical approaches to reduce the effects of spina bifida on children. “We wanted to know the specific mechanisms of action of the PMSC treatment that protect neurons,” Dr. Wang said.
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