January 07, 2015

One major cause of disability and paralysis (that currently has no restorative treatments available) is a spinal cord injury. In the United States, more than 12,500 citizens are involved in accidents resulting in a major spinal cord injury. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistics Center, the majority of those affected are males (79%) and the average age of injury is 42 years. The causes of this are trauma, disease, or congenital disorders. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of this type of major injury. The results are tetraplegia or quadriplegia (affecting all limbs and torso) and paraplegia (arms are unaffected), both complete and partial.

As of now, there is no “cure” for those who experience paralysis because of this type of injury. Physical therapy and the use of medical aids, such as wheelchairs, can help many of those afflicted go on to lead a normal life following this diagnosis, but many in that situation dream of being cured of the condition.

That could soon be possible thanks to stem cell research. A type of stem cell therapy could be the answer for healing these patients with spinal cord injuries, according to researchers in Spain. They recently performed successful, promising tests on rats where they collected ependymal progenitor cells, multipotent stem cells found in adult tissues surrounding the ependymal canal of the spinal cord, which responded to the activation of specific receptors, thereby stimulating energy within the cells1. They are hopeful that these stem cells, when introduced in the spinal cord, will prompt growth and repair at the injury site. They say their findings provide hope for future treatments in healing major spinal cord injuries.

This study points out the important role purinergic receptors and neural stem cells have in regenerative therapy, which they plan to expand on with additional research in the future.

Another study, which was conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Cairo and Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, looked at the effects an autologous stem cell transplant, when augmented with enhanced neurological repair, would have on a canine with a major spinal cord injury2. They found that the stem cells contributed significantly to the regeneration at the injury site, which they say highlighted the benefit of the autologous transplant. They also plan more research in an effort to generate more significant neural regeneration in treatments.

  • Purinergic receptors in spinal cord-derived ependymal stem/progenitor cells and its potential role in cell-based therapy for spinal cord injury. Gómez-Villafuertes, R., et al. Cell Transplant. Published: July 15, 2014
  • Intrathecal transplantation of autologous adherent bone marrow cells induces functional neurological recovery in a canine model of spinal cord injury. Gabr, H., et al. Cell Transplant. Published July 15, 2014.
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