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Exosomes Derived from PMSCs and Expressing Galectin 1 on Surface May Protect Neurons & Reduce Spinal Cord Injury, Offering Promising Prospect of Cell-Free Treatment, Spina Bifida Researchers at UC Davis Conclude

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. "Our new results provide evidence that stem cell secretions containing exosomes that express galectin 1 are an important part of the therapeutic benefits and give us a path for optimizing the neuroprotective qualities of the treatment."

HOPE FOR A CELL-FREE TREATMENT

The new study also could help the researchers produce a cell-free treatment for spina bifida and other spinal cord injuries based on byproducts of stem cells rather than the stem cells themselves, according to Dr. Wang.

Stem cells can heal, however they can also influence the broader immune system and treatment site, making the possibility of cell-free treatment highly attractive.
“Stem cell secretions can have the same or similar healing qualities, but also are a more stable and controllable product,” Dr. Wang said. “We are excited about what we see so far and are anxious to further explore the clinical applications of this research."

In addition to Dr, Wang and Dr. Farmer, study authors included Priyadarsini Kumar, James Becker, Kewa Gao, Randy Carney, Lee Lankford, Benjamin Keller, Kyle Herout, and Kit Lam, all of UC Davis Health. Gao also is affiliated with The Third Xiangya Hospital of Central South University in China.

[UC Davis press release] [The FASEB Journal abstract]

Photo at left shows Dr. Aijun Wang and photo at right shows Dr. Farmer.