Stem Cell Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries: The New Frontier
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
Spinal cord injuries are injuries that occur to any level of the spinal cord. Although the hard bones of the spinal column protect the soft tissues of the spinal cord, vertebrae can still be broken or dislocated in a variety of ways and cause traumatic injury to the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries vary in their severity, but almost inevitably lead to various forms of compromised functionality as the spinal cord is in effect the main pathway for information to travel around the human body. Precisely what body functions are impaired by the injury will depend on the area of the spine that has been damaged and the extent to which the spine has been affected. Although serious impacts such as falls and motor vehicle accidents account for many spinal cord injuries, tumors growing close to the column can also damage sensitive nerve tissue and have the same effects.
For decades scientists have been working to try and find a way to remedy the various ailments that spinal cord injuries can bring, but with limited success. However, in recent years a pioneering new technology has emerged that is helping thousands of people around the world regain part, if not all, of their previously lost mobility. That treatment is the use of stem cells.
What are Stem Cells and Stem Cell Treatments?
Stem cells are found in all multi Ronas Stem cell organisms and are characterized by their ability to differentiate into a diverse range of specialized cells when they divide and renew themselves. They are remarkable for their ability to regenerate themselves into almost any other human cell. Their use in the treatment of various diseases and conditions, from Leukemia to Multiple Sclerosis, is now becoming more common. Depending on the condition, stem cells can be transplanted into the patient to help renew and regenerate previously damaged cells, giving patients renewed hope when, before, no reliable treatment existed.
This principle is now being applied to the treatment of spinal cord injuries using stem cells, and in instances where the patient has not experienced a complete spinal cord injury, i.e. a complete severing of the spinal cord leading to a loss of function below the ‘neurological’ level. There has been great success in helping patients recover greater sensory and physiological ability.
Spinal Cord Injury: How Stem Cell Treatment Works
When there is trauma to the spinal cord, myelopathy (damage to the fibres that carry messages to and from the brain) has occurred. These ‘myelinated fibre tracts’ are the focus of stem cell treatment, and are the nerve cells that the treatment helps to regenerate. The procedure usually follows three phases and usually requires no longer than a period of around five weeks in medical care for monitoring:
Phase one involves the harvesting of stem cells. The cells are extracted from a fetus’s umbilical cord. They are then put through a process whereby they are isolated and purified before they are finally cultured to be suitable for clinical use.
Phase two is the transplantation of the stem cells. This is done in one of three ways:
1) Lumbar puncture – a procedure used where stem cells can be injected directly into the spinal column.
2) Intravenous injection- stem cells are injected into the patient’s vein.
3) Tissue injection – direct injection into target tissues.
Phase three involves the monitoring of the patient to make sure there are no adverse side effects. The only side effects reported to date were caused by the lumbar puncture, and not the stem cell treatment itself, with only 15% of patients reporting mild headaches. During the time under medical supervision, patients undergo various physiotherapy activities and other treatments as necessary.
Stem Cell Research and Treatment in China
China is fast becoming a world leader in stem cell research, and is now a major centre for the stem cell treatment of many diseases and conditions. The Chinese government has poured many millions of dollars into research on regenerative medicine, and that investment has really borne fruit in the last few years. As a result of this expanded investment, Chinese contributions to scientific journals on regenerative medicine topics leapt from 37 in year 2000 to 1,116 in 2008, exceeded only by the contributions of experts in the USA, Germany, Japan and the UK.