Curing spinal cord injuries: Stem cell treatments tackle severe nerve damage

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Curing spinal cord injuries: Stem cell treatments tackle severe nerve damage

Curing spinal cord injuries: Stem cell treatments tackle severe nerve damage

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Stem cell injections may soon improve and potentially cure most spinal cord injuries.
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      Quantumrun Foresight
    • May 6, 2022

    Yale University researchers published (February 2021) promising results on the effectiveness of stem cell therapy in treating severe spinal injuries and damage. Clinical trials of these treatments are expected to enter their second phase in 2022 or 2023, including randomized trials on patients suffering from spinal cord trauma. 

    Stem cell spinal cord context

    The Journal of Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery reported that a research team at Yale University in the United States had successfully injected stem cells into patients with spinal cord injuries. The stem cells were derived from patients’ bone marrow and injected intravenously, leading to noticeable improvements in patient motor functions. Researchers recorded marked changes, such as patients being able to walk and move their hands more easily. The treatment process took over a week, with some time necessary for a culture protocol from the patients’ bone marrow cells. Precedents for stem cell therapy already existed prior to this trial, with scientists having worked with stroke patients. Yale University scientists conducted this research on patients with non-penetrating spinal cord injuries, such as minor trauma from falls or other accidents. 

    The Mayo Clinic, as of 2020, was conducting a similar clinical trial called CELLTOP, focusing on patients with severe spinal cord injuries. The trial used stem cells derived from adipose tissue, which was injected intrathecally (into the spinal canal). Phase one testing produced mixed results, with patients responding to the treatment well, moderately, or not at all. The trial also suggested that motor improvements stalled after six months of the treatment. In phase two, scientists at the Mayo Clinic were focusing on the physiology of patients who showed significant progress, hoping to replicate their improvement in other patients as well. 

    Disruptive impact

    Some experts have noted that there are several hurdles in making stem cell therapy effective for a wide range of patients, chiefly the requirement that several more years-long studies be conducted to confirm its therapeutic effects for spinal cord injuries. However, should stem cell therapy treatments prove out their efficacy by the early 2030s, the impact could be significant on the healthcare industry. Patients previously confined to a wheelchair or in need of permanent assistance may be able to live more fulfilling lives. Patients suffering from spinal injuries could shorten treatment cycles, thereby lowering their healthcare costs. Insurance companies could add access to stem cell therapy as part of policies sold to the public.

    Such breakthroughs could promote similar research into applying stem cell therapies to other diseases and ailments, including neurological conditions. However, as such treatments grow in profile, future lawmakers may increasingly consider regulating how stem cells are used in healthcare settings to ensure they are not misused or sold on the black market for profit.  

    Implications of stem cells applied to physical injuries 

    Wider implications of stem cells being applied to treat previously untreatable afflictions may include:

    • Increased public acceptance of stem cell treatments, countering initial religious objections to stem cell research.
    • Enhancing the quality of life for patients with severe spinal cord injuries, including increasing their chances of fully recovering from their injuries.
    • Increased funding for research projects focusing on applying stem cell therapies to treat other types of physical injuries, such as severe brain trauma.
    • Increased inequality in healthcare systems, as access to stem cell treatments will (initially) be only affordable to persons of high net wealth. 

    Questions to comment on

    • Do you think stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries is an essential treatment that insurance policies and national health programs should cover? 
    • When do you think stem cell therapy will become advanced enough to reverse spinal cord injuries completely? 

    Insight references

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