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Yale uses stem cells to repair spinal injury

More than 17,000 Americans are affected by a spinal cord injury per year, and treatment options are often limited. Now, early research indicates positive results from stem-cell injection to aid in regaining sensation and movement.

Researchers at Yale University multiplied mesenchymal stem cells from patients’ bone marrow and reintroduced them to patients via. IV, at about 40 days post injury. Thirteen people were involved, with injuries to the spinal cord resulting in loss of motor coordination, and in some cases bowel/bladder dysfunction -- though none of the participants sustained an injury involving severance of the spinal cord.

Out of the thirteen participants, twelve showed improvement in sensorimotor functions at an interval of six months post infusion. Over half also made substantial progress in relearning to walk, or regaining the use of their hands. These improvements were observed as early as a few weeks after treatment, according to the Yale report. All of these progress markers were measured in changes on the American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale for consistency.

It is still unclear if the improvements are due to stem cells actually reversing the spinal cord damage, but at this stage researchers suspect the stem cells act to cool inflammation and build replacement neurons at the site of the injury. The results are early, and more testing is needed before any real causality can be determined, especially given the lack of placebo group, improvements could have been a result of spontaneous recovery. Though, it is promising that the treatment proved safe and did not cause serious side effects in any of those involved.

One of the senior authors of the study, Stephen G. Waxman, professor of neurology, neuroscience, and pharmacology 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.”

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