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Clinical translation of autologous Schwann cell transplantation for the treatment of spinal cord injury

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Abstract

Purpose of review

To describe the current status of testing Schwann cell transplantation as a therapy for human spinal cord injury (SCI).

Recent findings

Transplanted Schwann cells have reparative effects in the damaged spinal cord. A few clinical studies have reported that Schwann cell transplantation appears safe. Compared with allogeneic cell transplants, autologous cells do not require immune suppression, but the workload of cell manufacturing is greater. Preclinical Schwann cell transplant studies conducted at the University of Miami in 2009–2012 supported an investigational new drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration. A Phase 1 safety study has been initiated.

Summary

Spinal cord repair after severe SCI requires that axonal regeneration and myelination occur in a context of reduced inhibition, enhanced plasticity, and new circuit formation. Evolving clinical experience with Schwann cell transplantation may provide a basis upon which additionally combined therapeutics can be tested to increase the extent of repair after SCI. Safety is the primary consideration when ex-vivo manipulated cells are introduced into the damaged nervous system. Preclinical studies across several species have not indicated safety concerns regarding Schwann cells. Initial clinical reports from studies in Iran and China are suggestive of clinical safety, although more rigorous characterization of the implanted cells is needed.

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