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New Technology Shows Promise In Treatment Of Spinal Cord Injuries

A university-led stem cell research trial on three patients with spinal cord injuries has yielded extremely promising results. The patients had complete spinal cord injuries, meaning they were all injured in the thoracic, or chest region, of their spines. Additionally, they were all paralyzed and did not have any neurological function below their injuries.

The university trial was designed to examine negative side effects from neural stem cell implantation, and surprisingly, two of the three seriously injured patients regained some sensory function within six months of their participation in the study, indicating slight repair to the central nervous system.

Although past stem cell research has been highly controversial and expensive because of its use of embryonic stem cells, this successful trial involved 20 million neural stem cells that were grown in a cell culture from just one donated brain. The cells were then implanted into the patients’ spinal cords.

Over six months, the patients’ reactions were carefully monitored for any unwanted side effects. The patients also underwent detailed examinations of any sensory functions, such as responses to electrical stimulation, temperature and light touch.

The neurosurgeon who led the research program explained that the spinal cord has 31 segments. One patient was able to detect sensory function three or four segments below the point of injury, and another patient was able to do so five or six segments below the injury. Although the third patient did not regain sensory function, none of the patients had any negative side effects.

The researcher is optimistic that that treatment, which is now considered safe, will show even better results in a new trial of nine people who have less severe spinal cord injuries and some sensory function. The researcher noted that, for the first time in medical history, there is a technology that can be used as a tool to repair the central nervous system, which is very exciting news for sufferers of spinal cord injuries.

Source: CBS News, “Paralyzed patients regain some sensory function after neural stem cell treatment,” Michelle Castillo, Sept. 3, 2012