Spinal Cord Injuries Could be Repaired With Patients’ Own Stem Cells

New research in stem cell therapy is offering hope for spinal cord injury treatment.

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Using Stem Cell Therapy for spinal cord injury treatment.

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Being able to restore movement and function to people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) is now becoming closer to reality thanks to researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who collaborated with a team of scientists from Japan. For the hundreds of thousands of people who sustain such injuries every year, this is very hopeful news.

People who have SCI  often experience a significant loss of movement and feeling due to nerve damage. Current treatment for these types of  injuries involves intensive rehabilitation programs which can help improve the outcome for patients but there are no further treatments according to Science Alert.

The results of the phase 2 study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, showed that 13 patients with SCI that were treated with IV infusions of their own stem cells experienced functional improvements. These types of stem cells that are derived from bone marrow are known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).

In fact, over half of the patients had substantial improvements in their ability to walk or use their hands within weeks of the treatment, according to a news release from Yale. And there were no substantial side effects reported.

The patients had all sustained non-penetrating (their spinal cords were not severed) SCI from falls or trauma several weeks prior to the IV treatment. They all had loss of motor function and sensations. All of the patients received the stem cell treatments and served as their own control; none of the patients received placebos.

The researchers wrote in the study that while other trials have used MSCs to treat injuries by using injections, this was the first time their technique has been used. “Importantly, intravenously infused MSCs may affect not only the injury site, but other parts of the central nervous system including brain and blood vessels,” the authors said.

They believe, due to research on animals, that the MSC’s deliver healing through the secretions of neural growth factors that were able to restore structures and chemical activity as well as reducing swelling. According to Science Alert, the rapid improvements were probably due to a chemical called brain derived neurotrophic which supports the health of neurons.

“The idea that we may be able to restore function after injury to the brain and spinal cord using the patient’s own stem cells has intrigued us for years,” Stephen G. Waxman, professor of neurology, neuroscience and pharmacology at Yale University and a senior author of the study, said in the news release. “Now we have a hint, in humans, that it may be possible.”

The researchers wrote in the study that while other trials have used MSCs to treat injuries by using injections, this was the first time their technique has been used. “Importantly, intravenously infused MSCs may affect not only the injury site, but other parts of the central nervous system including brain and blood vessels,” the authors said.

Similar results with stem cells in patients with stroke increase our confidence that this approach may be clinically useful,” Jeffery D. Kocsis, professor of neurology and neuroscience at Yale University and a senior author said in the news release.

While additional studies are needed to confirm the results of this unblinded study,  it can take years before this treatment will be able to be used but the researchers are hopeful that someday it will. This could be the first step in returning function to people who have suffered these disabling injuries.

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