Stem Cells May Improve Spinal Cord Injury

A recent medical breakthrough has discovered a possible cure for spinal cord injuries. Researchers at the University of California Reeve-Irvine Research Center used human neural stem cells to improve the mobility of paralyzed mice.  

Mice that were paralyzed due to spinal cord injury showed tremendous improvement in agility after the injections. The mice began to regain their ability to walk sixteen weeks after injections, according to a report in last week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

Dr. Annapurni Trouth, professor and chairperson of the Department of Neurology at Howard University Hospital, explains stem cells as “primitive cells that are still forming in the fetus.” They are “non-differentiated cells,” she said; cells that have not yet taken on an identity or a specific function. Stem cells can literally transform into any tissue.

For this reason, scientists have been intrigued by stem cells and their possibilities. According to Dr. Trouth, the recent study differs from others because it discovered regeneration within the spinal cord using fetal stem cells, not embryonic cells, which were used in past experiments. Most of the injected stem cells transformed into nerve cells, while some turned into support cells, replacing the old and damaged cells.  

The study also found regenerated myelin, cells that create biological insulation, that nerve fibers need to communicate, also reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Dr. Aileen Anderson, scientific director of the Christopher Reeves Foundation Injury Core, is the lead investigator of the study. She said she believes this is the first step toward treatment in human cases. “This work is a promising first step, and supports the need to study multiple stem cell types for the possibility of treating of human neurological injury and disease,” she said in a University of California press release. 

Although these findings have brought scientists an enormous step closer to the cure, more research needs to be done. For treating spinal cord injury, Dr. Brian Cummings, one of the lead researchers in the experiment, told Reuters Health “there is hope, but we are a long way off.” He also said “Our study improved function in mice with very controlled injuries. We did not cure these mice.” 

Many Howard professionals are impressed with the results of the recent study. Dr. Gary Dennis, Chief of Neurosurgery in the Department of Surgery at Howard University Hospital, said the study was the newest and most promising research. “Stem cell research undoubtedly improves the quality of life,” he said. “Spinal cord injury is a very serious condition associated with the many social ills of today.” 

Dr. Trouth also has high hopes for the new findings. “This data is very encouraging,” she said. “If we can learn how to replace lost brain tissue in many disorders and diseases, we might be able to find cures.” 

Students are too intrigued by this medical phenomenon, such as senior pharmacy major Saba Tuquabo. “A lot of young men get shot and lose their ability to walk. It’s a good thing, especially for people who have had an accident.” 

The study, funded by the non-profit Christopher Reeves Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, has many companies and researchers anxious to be the first to test on human subjects. But according to the Washington Post, the FDA needs more questions to be answered before such trials, which may not be for at least 9 months.