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Spinal Cord Study Shows Promise

A recent study by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has shown the potential of stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries.

Statistics from the World Health Organization show that 500,000 people around the world suffer a spinal cord injury each year. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that in the U.S., 170,000 spinal cord injuries occur per year.

The Seriousness of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries typically occur as a result of trauma, such as an accident or fall. Spinal cord injuries range from bruising of the spinal cord to complete severing of the spinal cord, and the impact can range from partial paralysis of the leg to complete paralysis of the entire body.

Although there are conventional medical treatments such as medications, surgeries, assistive devices and rehabilitation available for individuals with spinal cord injuries, many of these treatments do not restore feeling or function.

Most individuals who experience a spinal cord injury experience a reduced quality of life as a result of their condition.

Spinal cord injuries can also cause premature death.

The Israeli researchers used engineered tissue made of human stem cells in rats with paraplegia caused by complete spinal cord transection to test the ability of stem cells to heal damaged spinal cords. Paraplegia occurs when the spinal cord is severed; it typically leaves the lower extremities paralyzed.

The Case for Stem Cells

Stem cells are the basic building blocks of the body. They are undifferentiated cells with the ability to develop into the different tissues and organs of the body.

Stem cells can also regenerate themselves without limit, providing healing for damaged tissues. Stem cells also have anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Study: Stem Cells and Spinal Cords

The stem cells used for the project came from the epithelial lining of the mouths of humans.

Before inserting the stem cells into the spinal cord, the research team built a 3D scaffold to give the stem cells a place to grow, attach and develop into spinal cord cells in the rats.

The scaffold also contained the proteins thrombin and fibrinogen to give structure and support to the new neurons developing in the spinal cords of the rats in the test group.

Forty-two percent of the rats that received the engineered tissue with the human stem cells showed significant improvement in just three weeks and were able to support weight on their hind limbs and walk.

Seventy-five percent of the test group responded to stimuli to their hind limbs and tails.

The paraplegic rats in the control group that did not receive the tissue with the stem cells showed no improvements in mobility or response to stimuli.

In addition to the increased mobility, some rats in the test group also had some healing in lesions on their spinal cords.

Spinal cord lesions are abnormal tissue growths that develop on the spinal cord after an injury.

"Studies such as this show the potential for stem cells to heal injuries and conditions that previously have not responded to conventional treatment," said Dr. Bill Johnson, M.D.

Johnson treats patients with neurological disorders and spinal cord injuries using autologous adipose fat stem cell therapy.

"Autologous stem cell therapy takes stem cells directly from the patient and puts them back into the patient in the area of injury or illness," Johnson said.

Johnson uses stem cells collected from the adipose fat from areas such as the inner thigh or abdomen through a specialized liposuction.

"Adipose fat yields 25 million stem cells from one collection, which is significantly more than other tissues, and because of their volume, do not need to be multiplied in a lab before they can be used," Johnson said.

Although not all of the test group rats in the Technion-Israel Institute study improved, the results of the study are still promising.

"The ability of stem cells to heal tissues that previously couldn't be healed is significant to improving health outcomes for many people," Johnson said.


Frontiers. "Paraplegic rats walk and regain feeling after stem cell treatment: The rats show significantly improved mobility and sensory perception, as well as spinal cord healing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 November 2017.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures at a Glance. 2016.

World Health Organization. Spinal cord injury: as many as 500 000 people suffer each year. 2 December 2013.

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