In a major breakthrough, researchers have restored motor functions in patients with spinal cord injuries, using patients’ own stem cells.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 250,000 to 500,000 people around the world suffer from spinal cord injuries. The highly debilitating condition not only limits a person’s motor function but also has economic and social consequences. Currently, there are limited treatment options; therefore, there is a need for effective therapeutic techniques. And it seems scientists at Yale and Sapporo Medical University may have found one. Using stem cells, scientists successfully treated patients with spinal cord injuries. Results of the phase 2 trial are published in the journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.
The trial enrolled 13 participants between the ages of 21 to 66 years. All suffered from non-penetrating spinal cord injuries; sustained from falls or minor trauma. As a result, the participants experienced symptoms such as impaired motor function, sensory loss, and bladder and bowel dysfunction.
Researchers prepared stem cells using patients’ own bone marrow. The stem cells then underwent special processing according to a set protocol. This took a few weeks. Next, through intravenous injections, patients received their own stem cells. As a result, each patient was his or her own control.
More Than Half Show Improvement
The neurological function of the patients was assessed 6 months post-infusion. Using The International Standards for Neurological and Functional Classification of Spinal Cord (ISCSCI-92).
12 out of the 13 patients showed neurological improvement. Whereas, more than half the patients reported improvements in functions such as using their hands, walking. Furthermore, the stem cell infusion did not result in any adverse events such as abnormal cell growth or neurological deterioration.
However, the study does have a few limitations. The unblinded study design means we cannot rule out observer bias as a possible factor impacting the results. Moreover, there was no control group, the sample size was small, and the study was uncontrolled.
Despite the limitations, the results of the study provide a major breakthrough in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. Furthermore, the study shows that stem cell infusion is safe and effective in treating spinal cord injuries. Researchers believe further studies will help confirm the results of this preliminary trial.
Honmou, O., Yamashita, T., Morita, T., Oshigiri, T., Hirota, R., Iyama, S., . . . Kocsis, J. D. (2021). Intravenous infusion of Auto Serum-expanded Autologous mesenchymal stem cells in spinal cord Injury Patients: 13 case series. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 106565. doi:10.1016/j.clineuro.2021.106565