Can Stem Cells and a Gel Repair Older Spinal Cord Injuries?
April 15, 2006
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.