Kamile joined the team at UCL in 2019 through the nsif funded Geoffrey Raisman Fellowship. Kamile will spend 3-years completing her PhD, which will work towards developing a model of spinal cord injury using special cells called olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) (located in the forebrain) and the mucosa (located in the nasal cavity). This work will advance our knowledge of the mechanisms involved in SCI and repair for the benefit of patients. We recently visited Kamile at the lab to see how she has been getting on in the first year of her project.
Can you provide a summary of the work you have completed over the first year of your project?
I have mastered essential skills required for the project over the first year. These include microsurgery, cell culture and histology processes (looking at structures under a microscope). I have been working with OEC cells from both the olfactory bulb and the mucosa. I am able to set up and verify a spinal injury model so that it is repeatable and reliable. Initial findings of in vivo studies suggested the OEC cells from the olfactory bulb were more successful in promoting nerve fibre regrowth. However, our preliminary results showed that at the end of each 6-week testing period both the bulb and modified mucosa cells have similar functional outcomes. This is a very positive outcome and may provide a safer way of obtaining OECs from the mucosa in patients. Extracting bulb cells requires a form of cranial surgery where risks are higher. This would eradicate the need for cranial surgery required for the extraction of bulb cells, where risks for patients are higher.
In addition to this, our lab has developed a collagen scaffold in which the OEC cells are embedded ready for transplantation. I have been investigating the optimal number of cells to use without affecting the structural integrity of the collagen scaffold.
More recently I have begun to use tracers which visualise axons. The transplanted cells are stained one colour, meaning I can see the interaction between the cells and the axons.
What has worked well and what progress do you feel you have made?
I have undergone training sessions and have mastered essential skills in cell culture, microsurgery and behavioural testing as well as tissue processing for immunohistochemistry (staining and visualisation). These skills have allowed me to investigate how the use of a collagen gel combined with bulb OECs and modified mucosa OECs affect functional recovery in a spinal cord injury model. I was able to confirm that transplanting bulb OECs does lead to a significant improvement, but I was very encouraged by the preliminary data of the modified mucosa OECs that showed very similar results. I feel the development of the use of mucosa cells to this level is important progress.
What could the implications of the work you have completed so far during your project mean for those with spinal cord injuries in the future?
The positive results from using modified mucosa OECs in my in vivo models mean that we will hopefully be able to use this technique in patients in the future. Using mucosa cells requires much less invasive surgery, therefore offering a more accessible and safer procedure for the patients. This could be a potential alternative when it is not possible to use bulb OECs.
Combining a biomaterial scaffold, such as collagen with OECs, would reduce the number of cells needed as well as the risk of the transplanted OEC cells migrating to irrelevant areas. Moreover, collagen can be broken down by the body. It therefore offers temporary support to the spinal cord while the OEC cells promote axon growth.
What will your focus be over the second year of the project?
I will be looking into cell survivability after transplantation and will be further refining my methods in anticipation of receiving human olfactory tissue samples. I hope to test human mucosa OECs and banked bulb OECs in my in vivo model which will allow me to prove that human OECs are capable of repairing spinal injury. This work will contribute towards gaining ethical approval for human clinical trials.