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Spinal Injuries: Cell Transplant Work Moving Forward

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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.

 

Findings such as those reported in Toronto " represent encouraging progress toward the development of a cure," says Robert F. Heary, MD, who attended the AANS meeting. "In the short term, these results have been excellent."

 

To confirm the potential, studies of longer duration are needed, says Heary, a neurosurgeon at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, at New Jersey Medical School in Newark. "But studies such as this, which lend promise for the future, are spectacular," he says.

 

Importantly, Tator says, the potential of applying this science in human is still years away. Overcoming things like infection and rejection as cells are transplanted from one human to another will be a big challenge, he says.

 

"Our future studies are going to involve following these mice for a longer period of time in a larger number of animals to see if they can recover more. We also have plans to perform spinal cord to spinal cord transplantation," he says. "The stem cells that originate in the spinal cord may be more effective in regeneration than brain cells for spinal cord injury."

 

Further laboratory tests of this strategy are necessary before clinical trials in humans can be considered, Tator says.

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