Stem cell therapy may help spinal cord injuries

January 9, 2014


Stem cell therapy may help spinal cord injuries

Spinal cord injuries are one of the most grave common sports injuries. The damage done to the spine's vertebrae is not only irreversible, but also devastatingly debilitating. Given the relatively high rate at which spinal cord injuries occur in the U.S., many scientists have spent years looking for ways to treat the affliction to improve the patient's overall health and lifestyle. While there is still no cure for spinal cord injuries, a new study published in the journal PLOS Biology may provide some new avenues for treatment.

For the study, the researchers assessed 156 published reports on the effects of stem cell treatment on spinal cord injuries. All of the reports used animals - about 6,000 total -  to analyze the effects. After doing a systematic survey of the 156 reports, the researchers found that stem cell treatment had a 25 percent improvement in both sensory and motor performance. Sensory performance in particular slightly improved because more stem cells were used, which scientists call a "dose response." 

"Extensive recent pre-clinical literature suggests that stem cell-based therapies may offer promise," said the study's authors. "However the impact of compromised internal validity and publication bias means that efficacy is likely to be somewhat lower than reported here."

According to the PLOS blog, stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries typically includes repairing the damaged areas of the spine by filling them with the cells to generate cell growth and increase sensory and motor ability. 

While the most common treatment for spinal cord injuries is extensive physical therapy, the National Institutes of Health states that there are various studies and clinical trials currently being administered with the hope of finding more effective treatment. Some of these trials are repairing spinal cord damage by transplanting adult stem cells into the spine through surgery. New research published earlier this year in the journal Science unveiled that naturally occurring scar tissue formed by stem cells following a spinal cord injury could protect damaged nerve cells from future harm.

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