Bone marrow cells that the body normally uses to restore blood vessels can be cultured to stop neuropathy and restore nerve function in diabetic mice, according to researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
If bone marrow cells could be cultured to work similarly in humans, it would be a significant step forward in the treatment of neuropathy, one of diabetes’ most dangerous effects. In most people, high blood sugar eventually damages the blood vessels that supply peripheral nerves in the body, especially in the upper and lower limbs. In its most advanced form, neuropathy can lead to amputation.
In the Emory study, scientists worked on the assumption that bone marrow contains cells, called endothelial progenitors, which can divide into cells that are able to restore damaged blood vessels. They wanted to see if marrow cells especially enriched with endothelial progenitors could also be used to help regrow the nerve linings in diabetic mice. They injected the cells near the sciatic nerve in the test mice. (The sciatic is a large nerve in mammals that extends from the back to a rear leg.) Over the course of a few weeks, nerve signal speed and temperature sensitivity in the mice were restored to normal.
The Emory team reported that the restoration of nerve function occurred despite the fact that only a fraction of the bone marrow cells actually became endothelial cells. The scientists also found that the cells appeared to “home” in on peripheral nerves-a characteristic that makes their eventual application in humans even more promising.