For the first time in the world, scientists from the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University have engineered 3D human spinal cord tissues using human materials and cells.
Scientists then implanted those tissues in a lab model with long-term chronic paralysis. They found their engineered human spinal cord implants could successfully restore walking abilities in 80% of tests.
The team is now planning for clinical trials in human patients. They hope that within a few years, the engineered tissues will be implanted in paralyzed individuals enabling them to stand up and walk again.
The groundbreaking study was led by Prof. Tal Dvir’s research team at the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University.
Prof. Dvir said, “Our technology is based on taking a small biopsy of belly fat tissue from the patient. This tissue, like all tissues in our body, consists of cells together with an extracellular matrix (comprising substances like collagens and sugars). After separating the cells from the extracellular matrix, we used genetic engineering to reprogram the cells, reverting them to a state that resembles embryonic stem cells – namely cells capable of becoming any cell in the body.”
“From the extracellular matrix, we produced a personalized hydrogel that would evoke no immune response or rejection after implantation. We then encapsulated the stem cells in the hydrogel, and in a process that mimics the embryonic development of the spinal cord, we turned the cells into 3D implants of neuronal networks containing motor neurons.”
The implants were then implanted in lab models, divided into two groups: those who had only recently been paralyzed (the acute model) and those who had been paralyzed for a long time – equivalent to a year in human terms (the chronic model). Following the implantation, 100% of the lab models with acute paralysis, and 80% of those with chronic paralysis regained their ability to walk.
Prof. Dvir: “The model animals underwent a rapid rehabilitation process, at the end of which they could walk quite well. This is the first instance in the world in which implanted engineered human tissues have generated recovery in an animal model for long-term chronic paralysis – which is the most relevant model for paralysis treatments in humans.”
“Our goal is to produce personalized spinal cord implants for every paralyzed person, enabling regeneration of the damaged tissue with no risk of rejection.”
Prof. Dvir, head of Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, concludes: “We hope to reach the stage of clinical trials in humans within the next few years and ultimately get these patients back on their feet. The company’s preclinical program has already been discussed with the FDA. Since we are proposing an advanced technology in regenerative medicine, and since at present there is no alternative for paralyzed patients, we have good reason to expect relatively rapid approval of our technology.”
- Lior Wertheim et al. Regenerating the Injured Spinal Cord at the Chronic Phase by Engineered iPSCs-Derived 3D Neuronal Networks. DOI: 10.1002/advs.202105694