Newly Discovered Cell Could Reverse Nerve Damage From Stroke, Spinal Injury

Mark and Brenda Zimmer spend time together at their Lewis Center, Ohio home. Mark was diagnosed with ALS two years ago and actively participates in clinical research to find effective treatments for the neurodegenerative disease. (Credit: The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center)

(CN) — Scientists revealed Monday they have discovered a new type of immune cell that could save dying nerve cells, as well as reverse damage done to nerve fibers.

In a study published in the journal Nature Immunology, researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan uncovered an immune cell line in both mice and humans that could potentially repair nerve damage. 

“This immune cell subset secretes growth factors that enhance the survival of nerve cells following traumatic injury to the central nervous system. It stimulates severed nerve fibers to regrow in the central nervous system, which is really unprecedented,” said Benjamin Segal, professor and chair of the department of neurology at The Ohio State College of Medicine and co-director of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute

“In the future, this line of research might ultimately lead to the development of novel cell-based therapies that restore lost neurological functions across a range of conditions,” he added.

The newly discovered immune cell, known as a granulocyte, could help those suffering from strokes, spine injuries and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Granulocytes are white blood cells with small granules containing proteins. The particular cell discovered by researchers looks like an immature neutrophil, a cell that helps fight infection, but it promotes nerve regrowth instead.

“We 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,” said first author Andrew Sas, an assistant professor in the department of neurology at Ohio State.

Scientists tested the new cells by injecting them into mice who suffered from damage to the optic nerve or nerve fibers. Those mice grew new nerve fibers to replace the damaged ones.

“I treat patients who have permanent neurological deficits, and they have to deal with debilitating symptoms every day. The possibility of reversing those deficits and improving the quality of life of individuals with neurological disorders is very exciting,” Segal said “There’s so much that we’re learning at the bench that has yet to be translated to the clinic, I think there’s huge potential for future medical breakthroughs in our field.”

The researchers said they plan to further study the cell’s effects so that they may one day be used in human patients.

“Our findings could ultimately lead to the development of novel immunotherapies that reverse central nervous damage and restore lost neurological function across a spectrum of diseases,” Sas said.

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