Explaining BrainStorm’s NurOwn® technology must start with an understanding of both mesenchymal stem cells and neurotrophic factors. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a type of stem cell that is found in many tissues in every adult human. These specialized cells can develop into many different cell types, including muscle, cartilage, bone and fat. Bone marrow is the primary source of MSCs in humans. Neurotrophic factors (NTFs) are molecules, mostly proteins and peptides, which support the initial growth and proper differentiation of developing neurons as well as the longevity of mature neurons.
The presence of NTFs has been shown to regrow damaged neurons in both test tube and animal studies. Eleven different kinds of NTFs have been identified so far, and each has their special role- some are more critical to neuron health than others. BrainStorm’s NurOwn® technology is based entirely on the MSCs found in human bone marrow. The MSCs used in BrainStorm’s NurOwn® personalized treatment come only from each individual patient’s own bone marrow and not from any other animal or human source.
After a sample of bone marrow has been removed from a patient the tiny amount of MSCs contained in that sample are separated and isolated. The next step is the key to BrainStorm’s NurOwn® technology: these isolated MSCs are grown, or cultured, using a series of proprietary methods developed and patented by BrainStorm. These techniques turn regular bone marrow MSCs into stem cells that secrete neurotrophic factors, or MSC-NTF cells. In other words, they become miniature living factories that constantly produce neurotrophic factors.
When the MSC-NTF cells are ready, they are injected back into the same patient from whom they were originally harvested. This unique process ensures that each patient receives only enhanced versions of the bone marrow stem cells that were already in his or her body. This dramatically reduces the chance of an adverse reaction and should alleviate any ethical concerns regarding the use of embryonic stem cells or products derived from them for treatment.
Since it is known that NTFs help neurons live longer under a variety of conditions, the hope is that by delivering these MSC-NTF cells close to the site of damaged neurons in ALS patients they can constantly bathe those neurons in NTFs. MSC-NTF cells cannot live within the cerebrospinal fluid indefinitely, but evidence suggests they can live for weeks or even months. It is possible that the MSC-NTF cells will continue to produce NTFs for as long as the cells live-well after the initial treatment.
Directly injecting NTFs into areas of damaged neurons has been investigated, but it appears that on their own, NTFs break down in the body too quickly to provide a sustained benefit. The NurOwn® treatment protocol uses cells to both produce the NTFs and deliver them where they are most needed, resulting in a more constant delivery and an increased therapeutic response.
BrainStorm's NurOwn stem cell manipulation process