New Study May Mean New Hope for People With Spinal Cord Injuries
Posted on December 29, 2017
A recent study by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology may lead to a new way to treat spinal cord injuries.
The spinal cord is a cylindrical group of nerve fibers and tissue enclosed by the vertebrae. It connects the brain to nearly all parts of the body and together with the brain makes up the central nervous system.
Spinal Cord Injury Statistics
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, 170,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury in the U.S. each year.
The World Health Organization reports that spinal cord injuries worldwide total 500,000 annually.
Spinal cord injuries often occur as a result of an accident or trauma, but spinal cords can also become damaged by bacterial and viral infections.
The effects of a spinal cord injury range from muscle weakness in a limb to problems with coordination to partial paralysis of an extremity.
Serious spinal cord injuries can also mean paraplegia, which is the complete loss of feeling in the legs or lower half of the body, or quadriplegia, the paralysis of all four limbs. Other effects of a spinal cord injury include muscle spasms or overactive reflexes, increased perspiration, loss of sensation or hyper sensation, and tingling.
“Depending on the seriousness of the injury, a person with a spinal cord injury could walk with a limp or be paralyzed from the neck down,” said Dr. Joel Singer, a stem cell therapy doctor in New York.
Patients with severe spinal cord injuries also often experience shortness of breath and urinary and fecal incontinence.
People with spinal cord injuries have a shorter life expectancy; many individuals with spinal cord injuries die within one year of their injury. The leading causes of death for individuals with spinal cord injuries are respiratory disease, urinary disease and heart disease.
Mainstream medical treatments for spinal cord injuries such as medications or assistive devices help to keep spinal cord injury sufferers comfortable and manage their symptoms but do not restore function or sensation to damaged tissues.
Many of these treatments have serious side effects or create other complications for spinal cord injury sufferers.
New Hope for Spinal Cord Healing
Researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology hope to change how spinal cord injuries are treated and improve outcomes for individuals with spinal cord injuries.
To accomplish their goal, the scientists engineered tissue using stem cells taken from the epithelial lining of human mouths.
The researchers grew the stem cells on a three-dimensional scaffold, adding support and structure using human thrombin and fibrinogen. Thrombin is an enzyme that is critical in the blood-clotting process, and fibrinogen is a glycoprotein that circulates blood.
Once the stem cell tissue was complete, the researchers injected it along the spinal cords of rats that had a total spinal cord transection and no feeling or function in their hind limbs or tails.
Forty-two percent of the rats treated with the engineered tissue showed improvements in their ability to support weight on their affected limbs and walk. Seventy-five percent of treated rats also responded to stimuli in their tails and hind limbs.
Although not all of the treated rats showed improvement, the study shows the potential of stem cells to heal tissue thought to be untreatable by conventional methods.
“Stem cell therapy can be used to treat joints damaged by arthritis or heart muscle weakened by a heart attack,” Singer said.
To treat patients, Singer uses stem cells taken from the patient’s own adipose fat tissue. He collects the stem cells through a minimally invasive liposuction procedure.
When the stem cells are deployed back into the patient, they flood damaged tissues and body areas and begin the repair process.
“Adipose fat tissue contains millions of adult stem cells, so their sheer numbers make them extremely beneficial for healing,” Singer said.
In addition to being great in number, adult stem cells taken from adipose fat tissue can regenerate themselves continuously until the tissue is healed, which gives them the ability to repair tissues that can’t fix themselves – like severed spinal cords.
Stem cells can also differentiate into many different types of tissue, making them beneficial for a wide range of applications.
Singer, who uses stem cells to treat inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disease and degenerative diseases, believes that stem cells are the next level of medical care.
“Unlocking the body’s healing potential means new treatments and better outcomes for patients,” Singer 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.