Since our last update, the team at UCL, led by Professor Ying Li, have continued to make exciting progress in the next phase of the OEC Project. Their vital research focuses on improving the yield, storage and sources of olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) in spinal cord injury models. As well as being internationally respected in the field, the project has attracted the support of National Institute for Health Research, a body that supports and promotes research within the NHS.
Work has begun on a new protocol for OECs collected from the lining of the nose, the mucosa, as opposed to the olfactory bulb located in the forebrain. These cells can easily be accessed with a nasal endoscope, as opposed to the cranial surgery required to extract bulb OECs from the forebrain. This means the procedure would ultimately be more straightforward for patients and carry less risk.
While mucosa tissue has a lower OEC content than bulb cells, the team have developed a protocol to increase the yield produced using biomaterials. Although further research is needed, the team have successfully increased the yield from 5 to 25%. In vivo models using these mucosal cells have shown positive outcomes on functional recovery. These results have been recognised by the scientific community, having recently been published in the journal ‘CELLS’.
There are also some exciting cross-disciplinary collaborations in the pipeline so watch this space for further updates.
It is important to note that this research is not only feeding into the Walk Again Project in Poland, a full UK-based clinical trial is also planned. This provides two pathways to reach our goal of a procedure that will significantly improve the lives of those living with SCI.
We are honoured to be funding Professor Li’s team and look forward to sharing the developments with our supporters.