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Injured spinal cords repaired with stem cells

SCIENCE

Injecting bone marrow from stem cells in people with spinal cord injuries has led to a significant improvement in motor functions, a new trial has found.

More than half the people in the trial saw big upticks in key functions — such as the ability to walk, or to use their hands — without significant side effects. All had non-penetrating spinal cord injuries, in many cases from falls or minor trauma, several weeks prior to the stem cells being implanted. Apart from a loss of motor function and coordination, they had experienced sensory loss as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction. The stem cells were prepared from their own bone marrow. There were no placebo controls.


Yale scientists Jeffery D. Kocsis, professor of neurology and neuroscience, and Stephen G. Waxman, professor of neurology, neuroscience and pharmacology, led the study, which was carried out with investigators from Sapporo Medical University in Japan.

Kocsis and Waxman stress that more studies will be needed to confirm the results of this preliminary, unblinded trial. They also stress this could take years. Despite the challenges, they remain optimistic. “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,” Waxman says. “Now we have a hint, in humans, that it may be possible.”

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