Researchers at the University of Miami in Florida have shownthat adult human central nervous system (CNS) nerve cellsgrow in the presence of a class of cells that promote neuronsurvival.

"This is the first time researchers have been able to get humanCNS nerve cells to grow," said Gliatech President Thomas O.Oesterling, whose company has licensed the cell culturesystem.

The discovery may lead to treatments for CNS spinal cordinjuries such as paralysis. In the short term, the cell culturesystem can be used to identify factors that promote thegrowth and survival of CNS neurons.

Doctors James M. Hopkins and Richard P. Bunge report in thismonth's Experimental Neurology that regeneration of humanretinal nerve tissue is stimulated by Schwann cells. Schwann,or glial, cells not only tell neurons where to grow and how toorganize during development, but also lay down the myelinsheath that surrounds and protects peripheral nerves.

Gliatech, which is developing treatments for injured anddiseased nerve cells, recently licensed the use of Schwanncells to promote peripheral cell growth from the university.Bunge is chairman of the scientific advisory board for theBeachwood, Ohio, company.

The researchers from the Miami Project to Cure Paralysistried to grow 50 human retina samples in the presence ofSchwann cells. The retinas, obtained from autopsies, had beenstored for several days. Eighty-six percent of the samplescontained viable neurons after exposure to the Schwann cells,and 56 percent showed neuron outgrowth.

Preliminary studies suggest that Schwann cells are alsoeffective in animals with damaged spinal cords, saidOesterling.

The Miami Project, set up by ex-football star Nick Buonicontiafter his son, Marc, became a quadriplegic from a footballinjury, has an annual budget of more than $3 million raised bycontributions.

-- Carol Talkington Verser, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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