Could Stem Cells Help Victims of Spinal Cord Injury Recover?

Scientists in a recent study saw dramatic results when they grafted skin cells from a healthy 86-year-old man onto spinal cord injuries (SCI) in rats. The cells produced thousands of axons (nerve fibers) throughout the central nervous system.

Researchers converted skin cells into human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Those iPSCs were then reprogrammed to become neurons, which were then grafted onto two-week old spinal injuries in rats.

Three months later, scientists discovered that transplant sites showed mature neurons and extensive axon development. Both connected well with the rats’ nervous systems, and the transplants showed no signs of tumors.

The work was built on previous studies, which showed that grafted stem cells could form functioning circuits over injured areas. Some animals even regained function in affected limbs.

Unfortunately, no rats in this study recovered any function, but that may have been due to scar tissue. Researchers have a long way to go before they reach the human trial stage, but so far, the results have been promising.

Can Spinal Cord Injury Victims Recover?

Until now, doctors have assumed that diminished function and paralysis from spinal cord injuries was permanent, especially when nerve fibers are severed or badly damaged. This study shows that grafts of skin cells may allow the body to produce new fibers, possibly helping SCI victims regain function.

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[Did You Know: Human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) can turn into any type of cell.]

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