Rebecca Yao commenced her PhD in 2015 with the aim of her project to determine new methods to purify olfactory cells useful for transplantation to repair the injured spinal cord. While olfactory cells have been shown to partially regenerate the injured spinal cord, improvements in the therapy outcomes can be achieved by if higher quality cell preparations are obtained.
The difficulty is that the biopsy of olfactory tissue that is taken from the patient has a wide range of different cells that need to be first separated and then encouraged to increase in number to product sufficient cells needed for transplantation.
Rebecca’s PhD project has directly addressed this issue, by testing new methods for purifying the cells to determine which method generates the highest purity of cells. Thanks to the funding by the Count Charitable Foundation, Rebecca has been able to test a range of different commercial options for purifying the cells, and has compared them to existing methods that are currently used by scientists around the world.
Her results are both surprising and encouraging. Rebecca has discovered that the current methods in fact do not produce sufficient purity because the identity of the cells has been inaccurate. To overcome this, she has created a panel of markers to better identify the cells that are needed, which is the important first step in the process. She has then compared and test many different methods for growing cells in the lab and produced an optimal protocol which consistently gives high purity of the target cells.
In the final part of her PhD, Rebecca has examined how natural products can be used to stimulate the growth and activity of the olfactory cells. By incorporating the natural product into the protocol, better quality cells are obtained. The overall outcome of her project is that she has determined new methods for purifying the olfactory cells.
Rebecca is now in the final phase of her PhD and is due to submit her thesis in May 2019.
Due to the large Spinal Injury Project team at Griffith University, other members of the team are now using the improved purification method to produce the high quality cells needed for regenerating the spinal cord. Current animal testing shows very good recovery and we are now testing a range of different strategies to further improve functional recovery after spinal cord injury.
This project was kindly sponsored by Count Charitable Foundation.