Scientists Use Stem Cell Therapy for Spinal Cord Injuries

The team injected patients with their own bone marrow stem cells, noticing remarkable effects.
Fabienne Lang
Illustration highlighting the spinal cord in the human bodyPALMIHELP/iStock

Injecting bone marrow stem cells in patients with spinal cord injuries significantly improved their motor functions.

Scientists from Yale University and Sapporo Medical University in Japan reported their findings in the Journal of Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery on February 18.  

How stem cell therapy helped

The stem cells were prepared from the patients' own bone marrow, and injected intravenously back into the patients, with no side effects from the therapy noted by the researchers. This was not a blind trial, and no placebos were administered.

Over half of the patients reported improved motor functions within weeks of the injections. Key motor functions include walking and using hands. 

The patients in question had experienced non-penetrating spinal cord injuries a few weeks prior to the study, which were caused by minor falls or trauma. These injuries left them without motor function or coordination, sensory loss, and bowel and bladder dysfunction. 

This type of therapy isn't only ideal for spinal cord injuries, but also for brain injuries, such as strokes. As Jeffery Kocsis of Yale University said "Similar results with stem cells in patients with stroke increases our confidence that this approach may be clinically useful."

Adding to this comment, Stephen Waxman from Yale University said "The idea that we may be able to restore function after injury to the brain and spinal cord using the patient’s own stem cells has intrigued us for years. Now we have a hint, in humans, that it may be possible."

It's still the early days of this stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries, and the authors of the study stress that further studies need to be carried out before confirming the results of their initial, unblinded trial — something that could take years. 

It's still exciting news, as stem cell therapy has been researched for years as a potential remedy for such injuries. Just last year, the Mayo Clinic carried out trials on stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries. While in Japan, a few eyebrows were raised in 2019 as the nation accepted stem cell therapy to treat spinal cord injuries, perhaps a little prematurely some scientists suggested in the journal Nature.

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