Though spinal cord injury is relatively common, with the incidence continuing to grow, there is only one medication used to treat this injury, and it is limited in its effectiveness. Methylprednisolone also comes with serious health risks and must be employed in a short 8-hour therapeutic window.
Given the successes observed with stem cell treatments for other nervous system injuries and diseases, scientists have posited that stem cell therapy could offer new opportunities to help those with spinal cord injury. As such, researchers recently conducted a study to determine whether a certain type of stem cell has the potential to treat spinal cord injury and whether that treatment would be safe to use in patients. The results of the study were published in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine.
In their study, the scientists used what is referred to as intrathecal transplantation of autologous adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells, which are stem cells that come from fat tissue. They used these stem cells in 14 patients with spinal cord injury and evaluated the impact of these stem cells on the nervous system and on motor performance, and also monitored patients for any unwanted side effects.
Researchers did not see significant changes in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results over the 8 months following stem cell transplantation, but they did observe improvements in motor scores, suggesting that the stem cells were therapeutically effective against spinal cord injury. Importantly, the intrathecal transplantation of stem cells in these patients was not associated with any serious adverse events. Based on these results, scientists recommend that stem cell protocols are further investigated for their potential to treat patients with spinal cord injury.
Hur, JW et al. (2016). Intrathecal transplantation of autologous adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells for treating spinal cord injury: A human trial. The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, 39(6), 655-663.