October 18, 2016

Imagine a day where we’re able to treat some of the world’s most debilitating neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s, strokes and brain injuries. While this day may seem far removed, scientists at the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) are taking steps toward making the dream a reality.

Dr. Marcel Daadi of SNPRC is developing a more effective method for delivering neural stem cells to the brain in an effort to move forward stem cell therapies to treat neurological disorders. His research has already developed stem cells capable of becoming the type of cells Parkinson’s patients lose over time, or dopaminergic cells. An MRI-guided technique to implant these cells would move scientists one step closer to delivery of this therapy to patients.

“Stem cell-based therapy is emerging as a promising treatment for a variety of diseases and injuries. The first step in evaluating the potential of different therapeutic stem cell lines is to develop a safe and effectively reproducible delivery system,” Dr. Daadi explained.

Injection parameters have been well studied in drug delivery methods; however, they simply cannot be directly applied to stem cell-based therapy and the technology for stem cell delivery is undeveloped and limited.

Dr. Daadi and his colleagues developed an operational technique for delivering stem cells with low invasiveness and high accuracy in placement of the stem cells to the basal ganglia part of the brain. The basal ganglia controls motor skills compromised in Parkinsons disease.

The team tested the technique on baboons at SNPRC and not only showed effective targeted delivery but also revealed the cells were not released at a steady rate but instead dispersed in small bursts. This is a significant finding as it demonstrated how injected cells disperse in the host brain and stimulates new ideas on how we can prepare the cells to function at their best.

“We wouldn’t have been able to see this phenomenon using standard stereotaxic delivery,” Dr. Daadi said. “With iMRI, we can visualize in real time the cells being injected to the target area. A non-invasive MRI approach is becoming a necessity in clinical applications to enhance the safety of patients and the efficacy of the therapeutic approach. We can create the best cells, but if we can’t transplant them to the patient in a consistent and predictable way so that the patient can accept and thrive from them, then the therapy is simply ineffective.”

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