Dr. Cesario Borlongan pioneers stem cell therapy research for stroke [multimedia]

Distinguished USF Health Professor Cesario Borlongan, PhD, is internationally recognized for translational research on the neuroprotective and neurorestorative effects of stem cell therapies in stroke.

Over the last 22 years, his innovative work in the field of neuroscience has encompassed other neurodegenerative diseases and traumatic brain injury as well as stroke.  Dr. Borlongan, director of the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair at USF, does not hesitate to take calculated risks when it comes to following a different path of inquiry that may lead to a new discovery.

Take, for example, his recent study — with lead author Sandra Acosta, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Borlongan’s laboratory – published in the September issue of the American Heart Association journal Stroke.  The study showed that human bone marrow stem cells intravenously administered to post-stroke rats migrated to the spleen, an abdominal organ that plays a critical role in immune function, and significantly reduced chronic inflammation in the stroke brain.

“Next we want to explore whether transplanting these cells directly into the spleen, rather than peripherally, can lead to better functional recovery, including central nervous system improvement,” Dr. Borlongan said. “Even though stroke is a brain disorder, it has a major peripheral component – and in this case it may be the spleen that should be monitored more closely in our stroke patients.”

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USF neuroscientist Cesario Borlongan, PhD, does not hesitate to take calculated risks when it comes to following a different path of inquiry that may lead to a new discovery.

In another study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2013, Dr. Borlongan and colleagues suggested a new view of how stem cells may help repair the brain following trauma.   In a series of preclinical experiments they reported that transplanted cells appear to build a “biobridge” that links an uninjured brain site where new neural cells are born with the damaged region of the brain.  Based in part on the data reported by Dr. Borlongan’s group, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a limited clinical trial to transplant SanBio 623 cells (an adult stem cell therapy) in patients with traumatic brain injury.  The trial has begun enrolling patients at Stanford University Medical Center.

Additionally, Dr. Borlongan’s bench to bedside research has led to to five FDA-approved clinical trials of cell transplantation in stroke, including the first cell therapy in adult stroke patients.

“One thing that distinguishes our center at USF from many others is its emphasis on translational research” he said. “We like basic science, but we want to see the discoveries in the petri dish translated to animal models of brain disorders and eventually go into the clinics…  At the end of the day, we ask the question:  Can this science be translated into saving lives and make a difference in the lives of patients with stroke and traumatic brain injury?”

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Scientist Emeritus Barry Hoffer, MD, PhD, says despite Dr. Borlongan’s relative youth as a scientist, his insight and creativity has yielded many discoveries advancing the understanding of ischemic brain injury, blood-brain barrier pathophysiology, traumatic brain injury, and stem cell transplantation.

“If I were to make a list of young neuroscientists who are already superstars, Dr. Borlongan would be at the top of my list,” said Dr. Hoffer, an adjunct professor of neurosurgery and proteomics and genomics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

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Dr. Borlogan with Sandra Acosta, PhD, one of the postdoctoral fellows in his laboratory at the USF Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair. “They are the ones who come up with the paradigm-shifting approaches to the experiments and drive the science,” he says of the trainees and students.

Dr. Borlongan has received continuous federal funding totaling more than $15 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and the NIH since 2002 and also serves as the principal investigator on several industry grants.  Recently, he was awarded a two-year R21 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study the effects of endothelial stem cells on inflammation in the stroke vasculome — specific genes expressed on the interior surface of blood vessels in the brain following stroke.  The research may have implications for regulating inflammatory genes to treat chronic stroke.

The 30-member laboratory led by Dr. Borlongan includes graduate and doctoral students, a neurosurgery resident, and postdoctoral fellows – emerging scientists who contribute greatly to the research team’s vibrancy, innovation and passion for scientific discoveries.

“We need these young minds to challenge the existing paradigm. They are the ones who come up with the paradigm-shifting approaches to experiments and drive the science,” Dr. Borlongan said.  “I encourage, help facilitate and direct them to the literature, but it’s their show… I try to stay in the background rather than get in their way. That’s the most valuable thing I learned from my mentors.”

He also lets students know that it’s OK when experiments yield unexpected or negative results, because they can learn and move forward even if the initial hypothesis does not hold up. “Be logical, but follow the data; don’t change its direction,” he said. “It may lead you to something novel.”

Borlonghan with students_RSS

Dr. Borlonghan with some of the emerging young scientists in his laboratory. They were recently filmed by LabTV.

Dr. Borlongan received his PhD in physiological psychology in 1994 at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan. He pursued fellowships in neuroscience at USF and the NIH, National Institute on Drug Abuse.  He was an associate professor at Medical College of Georgia, where he directed the Department of Neurology Cell Transplantation, before returning to USF as a faculty member in 2008.

He regularly serves on peer review panels for the NIH, VA and the American Heart Association and is an editorial board member for numerous scientific journals, including Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, Stem Cells, PLOS ONE and Brain Research.  He holds several patents for inventions related to investigational cell therapies for brain disorders.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and member of the USF chapter of the National Academy of Inventors, Dr. Borlongan is 2015-16 president of the American Society for Neural Therapy and Repair.


Photos and video by Sandra Roa,  USF Health Communications and Marketing