Study: SCI Nerve Regeneration Could Be Helped by “Smell” Cells

A new study out of the University of Bristol showed that nerve regeneration following spinal cord injury could be facilitated by cells from the body’s olfactory – aka, sense of smell -- system.

A research team led by Dr. Liang-Fong Wong and Dr. Nicholas Granger from Bristol’s Faculty of Health Sciences “successfully transplanted genetically modified cells that secrete a treatment molecule shown to be effective at removing the scar following spinal cord damage,” according to a December news announcement. “The scar in the damaged spinal cord typically limits recovery by blocking nerve regrowth.”

The team’s previous work had used olfactory ensheathing cells and genetically modified them so the cells secreted chondroitinase ABC (ChABC), a treatment enzyme capable of breaking down spinal cord injury scars and promoting regrowth of nerves.

While ChABC has been shown by other studies to be an effective treatment, researchers discovered that the enzyme degrades quickly once it’s injected into a spinal cord injury and subjected to normal body temperatures. Because of that degradation, the treatments would need to be repeated.

In the new Bristol study, researchers combined the administration of ChABC with the genetically modified olfactory ensheathing cells that secrete ChABC. After those cells were transplanted into rodents that had spinal cord injuries, researchers observed ChABC being successfully secreted, and the resulting removal of some of the spinal cord injury scars.

“This led to increased nerve sprouting in the spinal cord, suggestive of successful nerve regeneration following the treatment,” the news announcement said.

Subsequent steps would include observing and evaluating functional recoveries as a result of the treatments.

Said Wong, “While these initial results look promising, in order to determine the longer-term survival of our genetically modified cells and assess functional recovery, such as recovery of walking or recovery of continence, we need to carry out further studies to test these cell transplants in more chronic injury models.”

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Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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