Stem Cells that Promote Nerve Regeneration

A study by Johns Hopkins researchers W. P. Andrew Lee and Gerald Brandacher have used stem cells from fat to promote nerve regeneration in rats that have suffered paralyzing leg injuries and in other rodents that have received hind-leg transplants.

These findings have shown that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can stimulate nerve regeneration, and deepen our understanding of how MSCs improve nerve regeneration after injury and limb transplant, while potentially minimizing the need for lifelong immunosuppression after reconstructive surgery to replace a lost limb.

Medical student John Pang said, “Mesenchymal stem cells may be a promising add-on therapy to help damaged nerves regenerate. We obviously need to learn much more, but we are encouraged by what we learned from these experiments.”

MSCs have the ability to readily differentiate into bone, cartilage, and fat cells, but in the laboratory, scientists have been able to extend the possible cell fates that MSCs can form, including nerve and blood vessel cells.

Another advantage of MSCs is their ability to escape recognition by the immune system. MSCs secrete a variety of molecules that suppress the immune response against them. According to Pang it is this very property of MSCs that researchers hope to use in order to regenerate nerves without requiring patients to take immunosuppressive drugs.

Harvesting MSCs from fat is relatively easy, but they can also be isolated from bone marrow. Although, bone marrow aspirations can cause more pain in some pain than liposuction.

In this experiment, researchers used three different groups of rodents. In one group, the rats had their femoral nerves cut and repaired. In the second group, the rats received a hind-leg transplant, and in the third group, the rats received a different type of transplant. Some of these rats had MSCs directly injected into the sciatic nerve, and others had the MSCs intravenously administered. After 16 weeks, the researchers say the rats with severed and repaired nerves with MSCs showed significant improvements in nerve regrowth and nerve function. Those with transplants from similar rats appeared to also show benefits.

Sciatic nerve

Those rats who transplants came from dissimilar rodent types – a situation similar to those patients who receive transplants from cadavers – rejected their new limbs.  Thus MSCs might be a adjuvant treatment for patients with nerve damage.

Published by


Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).

3 thoughts on “Stem Cells that Promote Nerve Regeneration”

  1. Great read.

    I would however take issue with the statement that Fat Harvest (for MSC’s) via liposuction being less painful than Bone Marrow Harvest. Given the number of capillaries that are disrupted in a liposuction process (the resultant bruising as evidence), Bone Marrow collection is far less traumatic, and less painful, if done correctly. Bone Marrow is the mainstay of what we use for CVA, TBI, Parkinson’s, Back Pain with Radiculopathy, etc. Patients who have had both prefer the Bone Marrow collection over the Liposuction.

    1. John Centeno has told me the exact same thing, but when I put that on my site the last time I was descended upon by dermatologists who berated me and kept asking, “have you ever had a bone marrow biopsy and had to limp for a month?” I told them that it was a bone marrow aspiration and not a bone marrow biopsy, which are not the same. Therefore, I qualified my statement to appease the dermatologists.

      1. The sheer volume of Stem Cells that can be harvested from a BMSCT and utilized immediately (viable cells – not TRAUMATIZED Liposuction cells) from a Bone Marrow Aspiration (you are correct in saying that – it’s not a ‘biopsy’), as well as the decreased amount of localized ‘trauma’ from the Harvest make it a really viable option (and my first choice). How many Dermatologists are treating such dramatic Neurological Disease? Their entire orientation is ‘soft tissue’ only, and I’d like to hazard a guess that few have even attempted a Bone Marrow Aspiration. If I’m wrong, please someone respond and tell me otherwise.

Comments are closed.