Peripheral nerves are responsible for sending messages from the brain and central nervous system (CNS) to the rest of the body; the communication resulting from peripheral nerves makes possible every sense, sensation, and movement that occurs in the body. Primarily resulting from some form of trauma, peripheral nerve injuries tend to heal poorly – or in some cases, not at all.
In fact, by current estimates, researchers have found that more than 50% of injuries to peripheral nerves fail to make a complete recovery, meaning the patient generally fails to recover pre-injury or “normal” motor and/or sensory function following current treatment methods.
While the exact reason for the inability of peripheral nerves to fully recover after an injury has not been pinpointed, researchers have realized that peripheral nerves do possess the ability to regenerate but appear unable to make a complete recovery on their own and without additional assistance of some type.
For years, medical professionals have turned to surgical procedures, including autologous nerve grafting, to treat peripheral nerve injuries and defects, but this procedure has been associated with many lasting issues, including nerve dysfunction, scarring, and the need for additional surgical procedures.
Recently, and for reasons yet unclear, many studies have demonstrated that stem cells appear to possess the ability to protect and support the regeneration of peripheral nerves during the healing process. In this review, Wang et al. review the role of neural stem cells (NSCs) in the regenerative process following damage or injury to peripheral nerves.
As part of their review, the authors considered the various characteristics of NSCs, including their ability to divide, proliferate, and differentiate into neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes – and more specifically, Schwan-like cells, as well as their observed role when repairing and regenerating after an injury to the peripheral nerves.
While it’s unclear if the specific process of NSCs differentiation produces an appropriate number of functional repair cells, the authors point out that learning more about this process should be a primary focus of future research.
The authors also identify several limitations associated with using NSCs to repair peripheral nerve injuries, including difficulties associated with applying the findings of animal studies using NSCs to humans as well as difficulties with the successful transplantation of NSCs into humans using the current techniques.
The authors conclude that NSCs appear to have tremendous potential for repairing peripheral nerve injuries in humans, however, there first needs to be a better understanding of the specific roles of NSCs in the repair/regeneration process.
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