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Reduced oxygen levels could double neural stem cells’ chance of survival

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“Cell transplantation strategies therefore typically introduce a stress challenge at the time of transplantation as the cells are switched from 20 percent to 3 percent oxygen, which is the average in adult organs,” she added.

A previous study had indicated that cardiac stem cells showed a better survival rate when the oxygen tension during their culturing was reduced. In this study, the Cambridge and Edinburgh teams wanted to learn if the same might prove true for neural stem cells (NSCs). So they modeled the oxygen stress that occurs during transplantation and, using NSCs collected from young rats, demonstrated that reducing the oxygen tension during culture in the laboratory from 20 percent to 3 percent resulted in significant cell death, while maintaining a 3 percent level protected them.

They saw similar results when they transplanted the stem cells into the brains of adult rats.

“NSCs cultured at an oxygen level of 3 percent rather than 20 percent oxygen approximately doubled survival in the immediate post-transplantation phase,” Dr. Stacpoole reported.

In addition, the low oxygen tensions resulted in more cells developing into oligodendrocytes, both in vitro and in vivo. Oligodendrocytes are a type of brain cell. While considered the most vulnerable cells in the central nervous system, they also are among the most important as they produce the insulating sheet that protects nerve fibers.

“While cell transplantation strategies hold promise for the treatment of a wide range of human diseases, it is known that many transplanted cells die within the first few days,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “This study demonstrates that oxygen in the cell culture environment is an important consideration when preparing cells for transplantation.”