Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center are currently exploring new forms of therapy that would use stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries.
According to News-Medical.net, Rush is the second research center in the country to undertake stem cell research for spinal cord injuries.
If successful, the therapy would inject a population of cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, into a patient’s spinal cord where the injury took place. Stem cells would support nerve cells in the spinal cord and allow them to function better. This would give patients improved sensory and motor function throughout their bodies, potentially even preventing paralysis.
For patients with spinal cord injuries, this would be life-changing. Currently, there are no treatment methods available that can reverse the damage of a spinal cord injury — even though more than 12,000 people suffer these injuries annually, with 1.3 million Americans living with a spinal cord injury every day.
“These injuries can be devastating, causing both emotional and physical distress, but there is now hope,” said Dr. Richard G. Fessler, professor of neurological surgery at Rush University Medical Center. “This is a new era where we are now able to test whether a dose of stem cells delivered directly to the injured site can have an impact on motor or sensory function.”
These spinal treatments would only be effective within the first 14 to 30 days of injury. In the future, Fessler explained, stem cell therapy could be used to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“Finding a cure for spinal cord injuries is the Holy Grail of spine surgeons,” says James R. Rappaport, MD, Sierra Regional Spine Institute. “Stem cells hold great promise as they have been proven successful in curing animals with paraplegia. This will allow treatment and cure patients who previously had no hope; this will dramatically change the treatment and outcomes of those with spinal cord injuries.”
Because stem cell therapy requires a good deal of time for its effects to manifest in patients, Fessler said he doesn’t expect to see any results in patients sooner than six months to a year, WGN-TV reported on August 13.
“We’re still very early in this research,” he said. “When we make a breakthrough it will be a very humbling experience for all of us.”