Spinal Injuries: Cell Transplant Work Moving Forward
April 27, 2001 (Toronto) -- A hot new area of scientific
investigation revolves around using stem cells to repair damage done to certain
parts of the body. Stem cells have the unique ability to transform themselves,
after transplantation, into the types of cells or tissues in their new
surroundings. The most adaptable of these stem cells come from fetuses, but
using those is very controversial. New research suggests that one day we might
not have to.
Results from a mouse study presented here at the 69th annual
meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) suggests
that transplanting adult stem cells from the brain into the spinal cord may
someday prove an effective therapy for people suffering from spinal cord
Researchers studied this approach in 15 adult female mice with
moderately severe spinal cord injury. Eight of the mice received cell
transplants taken from special regions in the brain, while the other seven got
For seven days after the transplantation, researchers kept
track of the mice's movement and the function of their nervous system. The mice
that received the transplanted cells were found to be more mobile, according to
study co-author Charles Tator, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western
Although their mobility improved slightly, Tator stresses that
the mice were far from back to normal. "None of these mice could walk
normally afterward," he says. "I wouldn't want to create the impression
that we returned them to normal after one week."
However, Tator says, if the mice had been assessed for longer
than one week, better results may have been seen.
Tator's research group also reported some positive findings
about the cells themselves following transplantation.
"What we found was that these cells survived ... and formed
new supporting cells in the spinal cord," he tells WebMD.
"The uniqueness of our work is that this was an adult brain
cell, so it does away with the concern of using fetal cells," says Tator.
Translating this mouse work into humans, he says, may mean removing stem cells
from a deceased person, growing them in the laboratory, and then transplanting
them into a person with either spinal cord injury or a potential host of other
Animal-to-human cell transplants aren't completely ruled out,
however. Just two weeks ago, on April 13, an Albany, N.Y., man received a
transplant of pig cells into his spinal cord.
Charles Dederick underwent the experimental procedure -- the
first of its kind, according to officials at Albany Medical Center Hospital --
in an attempt to restore function to his arms and legs after a motorcycle
accident in 1997 rendered him quadriplegic. Although he has not noticed any
improvement as yet, he remains hopeful.
Each year, approximately 8,000 Americans suffer traumatic
spinal cord injury, with common causes ranging from car accidents, falls, and
sports and recreational activities. In addition to paralysis, spinal cord
injury can cause abnormal bladder and bowel function, loss of temperature
control, and even death.