Experiments on rats are pointing the way towards stem cells being used to heal decades-old spinal cord injuries and reverse paralysis.
Early Cures Will Only be for Recent Injuries
Stem cell treatments have been effective in curing spinal cord injuries in rats, although the treatment has yet to be successful in humans. Initial stem cell treatments will probably only benefit the recently injured.
However, new experiments indicate that adding stem cells to spinal implants made of hydrogels, a Jello-like lattice of amino acids, can be used to treat older injuries as well. The hydrogels help fill the cavities that form over time in injured areas.
The hydrogel creates an environment in which neurons can grow, creating support for more delicate cells and allowing for the transmission of chemical signals that govern neural development.
Restored Limb Function and Neural Regrowth
Scientists tested the process on 28 rats by removing spinal tissues and replacing them with hydrogel filled with stem cells from rat bone marrow. Four weeks later, the rats displayed neural regrowth and recovered much of the limb functioning they lost.
It is too soon to predict whether or not the treatment will work in humans, who have a much thicker spinal cord than rats.
I believe technology using adult stem cells, and not fetal cells, may be one of the most significant health advances of this century. That's why I expect we will continue to see miraculous results as time progresses through more practical applications of this technology.
The scientific evidence suggests that we may eventually be able to have a technology that effectively resolves insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes.
The beta cells in the pancreas can be substituted without the use of toxic anti-rejection drugs, and the body can effectively self-regulate blood sugar with the appropriate production of insulin.
Additionally, Alzheimer's and a host of other diseases will benefit from the application of adult stem cell research.
Stem cells from adult bone marrow can grow not only into blood cells, but also into blood vessels. This means that marrow stem cells could be used to grow many different types of tissue, perhaps even organs.
Other research has found that when Sertoli cells from rat testes were implanted into rat brains, Parkinson's symptoms decreased.
In fact, although proponents of embryonic stem cells argue that their pluripotency makes research with them more valuable, that same factor can cause embryonic cells injected into the body to produce tumors.
Also, a study seeking to produce brain cells from embryonic stem cells not only failed to do so, but actually killed brain cells.
Adult stem cell research, however, promises many great benefits and breakthroughs. I expect all of us to hear more and more about them as time goes on.