Transplantation of encapsulated bovine chromaffin cells in the sheep subarachnoid space: A preclinical study for the treatment of cancer pain

J. M. Joseph, M. B. Goddard, J. Mills, V. Padrun, A. Zurn, B. Zielinski, J. Favre, J. P. Gardaz, F. Mosimann, J. Sagen, L. Christenson, P. Aebischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Chromaffin cells have been shown to release a combination of pain-reducing neuroactive compounds including catecholamines and opioid peptides. The allogeneic transplantation of chromaffin cells in the subarachnoid space has been shown to alleviate pain in various rodent models and possibly in terminal cancer patients. Because of the shortage of human cadaver donor tissue, we are investigating the possibility of transplanting xenogeneic cells in polymer capsules. In this technique, cells are surrounded by a permselective synthetic membrane whose pores are suitably sized to allow diffusion of nutrients, neurotransmitters and growth factors, but restrict the diffusion of the large molecules of the immune system and prevent contact with immunocompetent cells. The encapsulation technique therefore allows transplantation of xenogeneic tissue between species as well as retrieval of transplanted cells. Previously we have reported that encapsulated bovine chromaffin cells survive and alleviate pain in various rodent models. The purpose of the present study was to assess the feasibility of implanting a human sized device in a large animal model. Adrenals from 5 calves were surgically removed; chromaffin cells were isolated from these glands using a collagenase-based digestion-filtration technique. Cells were loaded into acrylic-based tubular (5 cm long, 920 μm wide) permselective capsules attached to silicone tethers. The capsules were maintained in vitro for at least 7 days following the encapsulation procedure. Nicotine evoked release was analyzed in a defined subgroup from each batch. One capsule was then implanted using a guiding cannula system in the lumbar subarachnoid space of each sheep for 4 (n = 5) and 8 (n = 1) wk. All capsules were retrieved intact by gentle pulling on the silicone tether. Except for one capsule, the evoked catecholamine release of the retrieved capsules was in the same range as that of other capsules from the same cohort that had been maintained in vitro. All retrieved capsules were devoid of host cell reaction. Clusters of viable cells dispersed in an alginate immobilizing matrix were observed throughout all the implanted capsules. This study demonstrates the feasibility of transplanting functional encapsulated xenogeneic chromaffin cells into the cerebrospinal fluid of a large animal model using a capsule of appropriate dimensions for human implants. We believe that these results suggest the appropriateness of human clinical trials in patients suffering from refractory terminal cancer pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-364
Number of pages10
JournalCell transplantation
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • Catecholamines
  • Chromaffin cells
  • Encapsulation
  • Neural transplant
  • Pain
  • Xenotransplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transplantation
  • Cell Biology


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