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Enabling cell-based therapy of spinal cord injury through injectable hydrogels

Spinal Cord Injury, Stem Cells, Stanford Neurosciences Institute

Spinal cord injury (SCI) causes permanent damage to about 12,000 new patients in the US each year, primarily young adults. A common result of SCI is paralysis, and unfortunately, less than 1% of SCI patients have full neurological recovery by the time of hospital discharge. To develop a regenerative therapy for SCI, many researchers have been focusing on the stem cell transplantation therapies that have resulted in partial regeneration in preclinical animal models. However, the delivery of a sufficient number of stem cells remains a difficult and unmet challenge. Only about 5% of cells survive after injection, partly due to mechanical damage. To address this problem, we have designed a very soft hydrogel that can be injected together with cells to protect cells and enhance cell survival. Following injection, we hypothesize that a hydrogel mimicking the native tissue stiffness could best support cells towards tissue regeneration. Therefore, I propose a next-generation family of hydrogels that are soft during injection to protect cells and can be tuned to have a range of stiffnesses after injection to mimic native nerve tissue. I will customize these hydrogels to deliver human induced-pluripotent stem cell-derived neural progenitors (hiPSC-NPs), which have a great potential for cell-based therapy of SCI. Using this hydrogel-based strategy, I aim to enhance hiPSC-NP survival after injection, promote neurite extension, and improve functional recovery in a rat SCI model..


Lead Researcher(s): 

Sponsors: Sarah Heilshorn (Materials Science & Engineering), Giles Plant (Neurosurgery), and James Weimann (Neurosurgery)

Funding Type: 
Postdoctoral Fellowship
Award Year: