Cell Discovery May be Key to Treating Currently Incurable Neurological Diseases

New study shows potential for unprecedented recovery from stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, ALS and many other brain and spine diseases and injuries

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – For the millions of people suffering from a neurological condition, the devastating effects have long been believed to be irreversible. But a discovery by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center provides new hope for recovery from degenerative neurological diseases — such as ALS and multiple sclerosis — as well as from damage caused by traumatic brain and spine injuries and stroke. Researchers examined a novel type of immune cell that not only prevents further damage of the central nervous system, but also reverses damage and restores function. Study findings are published in the journal Nature Immunology.

     “This type of cell actually secretes growth factors to rescue dying nerve cells. It can also stimulate the surviving nerve cells to grow new fibers once they’re severed or damaged in the central nervous system, which is really unprecedented,” said Dr. Benjamin Segal, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State College of Medicine and co-director of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute. “This can potentially lead to therapeutic breakthroughs for a wide range of conditions by repairing these nerve pathways.”

     The next step is to harness this cell and grow it in a lab to enhance its healing effects. Researchers hope these cells can then be injected into patients to improve function and mobility and slow or stop degenerative decline.

     “I treat patients who have permanent neurological deficits, and they have to deal with debilitating symptoms every day. So the idea of being able to restore neurological function and take that burden away from my patients is really amazing,” said Dr. Segal, who’s also director of Ohio State’s Neuroscience Research Institute. “There’s so much that we’re learning at the bench that has yet to be translated to the clinic, but I think there’s huge potential for the future.”


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Dr. Benjamin Segal (left) and Dr. Andrew Sas examine the properties of a newly-discovered cell in a lab at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. This immune cell has the potential to treat neurological conditions long believed to be incurable, including multiple sclerosis, ALS and spinal cord injuries.

Mark and Brenda Zimmer spend time together at their Lewis Center, Ohio home. Mark was diagnosed with ALS two years ago and actively participates in clinical research to find effective treatments for the neurodegenerative disease.

A neurological research team, led by Dr. Benjamin Segal (front) at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has discovered a type of immune cell that may hold the key to treating neurological disease and damage that, until now, has been considered permanent.

Mark Zimmer was an elite athlete growing up and became Ohio’s first four-time state wrestling champion. He was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 57, and says that slowly losing his strength as the disease progresses has been extremely difficult. However, he participates in clinical research trials and continues to hold onto hope that an effective treatment will be discovered.

Brenda Zimmer helps her husband Mark onto their patio at their Lewis Center, Ohio home. Mark was diagnosed with ALS two years ago and actively participates in clinical research that he is hopeful will lead to an effective treatment for him and the millions of others suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

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