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Stem Cell Transplants Help Repair Spinal Cord Injuries in Rats

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The researchers also looked at the motor skills of transplanted rats vs. the controls. One month after the surgery, the control rats were not able to move their hind limbs in a coordinated fashion and the limbs could not support their bodies. The hind limbs of the treated animals had regained some movement and were able to partially support the weight of the rats' bodies.

"Their walking certainly wasn't normal," says McDonald. "But this functional recovery was especially encouraging because the cells were transplanted nine days after the spinal cord injury -- a time period that had not yet been explored."

W. Dalton Dietrich, PhD, tells WebMD that he thinks the well done study reports new data regarding strategies to promote recovery of function following spinal cord injury in rats. Dietrich is the scientific director of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

"Strategies including stem cell transplantation may some day be used to treat paralysis after spinal cord injury," says Dietrich, who was not involved in the study. "The behavioral improvement seen with delayed transplantation is extremely important from the clinical perspective. Whether stem cells or other transplantation strategies represent the best strategy to enhance recovery after spinal cord injury remains to be determined."

Dennis J. Maiman, MD, PhD, stresses that these results are preliminary. While very exciting, he notes that there are still many problems that could arise. Maiman is the medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

"The biggest issue of all may be that human motor behavior is more complicated," says Maiman. "Even if cells grow, it does not mean they will work. Also, in the real world, you often have to contend with blood, scarring, and other problems that were not mimicked in this model."

Vital Information:

  • In a preliminary study, researchers have transplanted the embryonic stem cells of mice into rats with spinal cord injuries.
  • The transplanted cells did survive and grow, improving movement in the injured rats.
  • In humans, transplanting stem successfully does not guarantee the cells will function normally.
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