Led by Associate Professor James St John, the SIP team at Griffith University’s GRIDD and MHIQ, is conducting a preclinical development project to make an olfactory cell transplantation therapy repeatable, transferrable and affordable to all patients with spinal cord injury, world-wide. The Spinal Injury Project involves six key steps, and seven teams all working in parallel, and aims to be ready for a clinical phase I/IIa study in 2020.
1. The first step is to take a nasal biospy. This biopsy contains a number of different cell types. The purification team uses a number of different techniques to purify and separate out OECs and possibly other cells. Their aim is to guarantee the cells we are transplanting.
2. We need lots of OECs for the therapy, so we are looking to natural compounds (in collaboration with Nature Bank and Compounds Australia at GRIDD) to increase the number and health of the cells taken from the nose in preparation for transplantation.
3. We want to transplant the cells as a 3D nerve bridge, rather than a suspension of cells. OECs and other cells like to exist in 3 dimensions, and touch each other for support. The 3D team are looking at a number of hydrogels to do this, along side our patented Naked Liquid Marble technology.
4. The best regrowth of neurons after SCI requires a clean injury site, free from debris and other things such as bacteria. This team is using the natural ability of OECs to 'eat up' or phagocytose bacteria and debris to create a healthier injury site.
5. The transplantation team is researching the best way to deliver the cells to the injury site, and testing the functional outcomes of the therapy.
6. A cellular therapy for SCI requires exercise rehabilitation or as we like to call it: "Sustained Functional Therapy" to help prompt neurons to regrow across the injury site. This team is working closely with industry partners to make this a reality for all patients that undergo a olfactory cell transplantation therapy.
7. This team is bridging the gap between the lab bench and the hospital bed. The road to clinical trial is a complex one and requires a lot of preparation, planning and knowledge of the rules and regulations behind clinical trials.
The spinal injury project has already made advances in developing a cell purification method that separates olfactory ensheathing cells from the variety of cells found in the olfactory system. We have developed a unique and patented 3D culturing method for cells, that creates "spheroids" at custom sizes using a superhydrophobic coated surface. This technique, termed Naked Liquid Marbles was recently published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces and selected by the American Chemical Society as an 'editors pick'. We have also narrowed down the field for which substance we are going to use for our 3D nerve bridge. We have begun testing the cells in different formats in mice, which have regained
feeling and movement in their hind legs after spinal injury. Watch this space!
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