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Repairing injured spinal cord using own stem cells

The inability for neurons to regenerate quickly results in long-term disabilities with poor recovery rates, and unlike other organ systems, it is not possible to simply suture the nerves together as t

Yale scientists repair injured spinal cord using patients’ own stem cells

Traumatic spinal cord injury is a major cause of disability in developed countries. The inability for neurons to regenerate quickly results in long-term disabilities with poor recovery rates, and unlike other organ systems, it is not possible to simply suture the nerves together as they are incredibly small, delicate, and deteriorate soon after their injury. Even small improvements in mobility or dexterity after intense physiotherapy can lead to significant improvements in the patient’s quality of life. This is why scientists are so focused on new therapies that can help with neuronal regeneration and repair.

The use of stem cells derived from bone marrows has been shown to improve function in animal models of spinal cord injuries. Mechanisms for this therapy include neuroprotection for damaged nerves, induction of neuronal regrowth, and improvements in gene expression in the brain.

In this study, 13 patients were selected with non-penetrating spinal cord injuries, mostly from falls or minor trauma. They often had a loss in motor function, coordination, sensory loss as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction. They were given a single infusion of these stem cells and the regeneration of their spinal function was measured. The injection led to significant improvement in key functions, such as the ability to walk or use their hands, within weeks of the injection.

This is an early study with only a small number of patients, but it shows us that stem cells could be the therapy we are missing for patients with neuronal dysfunction.

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