Researchers have recently shown how a specific type of stem cell, called umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells, can improve the neurological function of patients who have experienced traumatic brain injury (TBI). When TBI occurs, the trauma to the head leads the immune system to send cells to the area of injury. The resulting swelling often overwhelms the site of injury, which can cause significant damage to the tissue as a number of brain cells, or neurons, die. The rationale for using stem cells to treat TBI is therefore that by replacing these lost neurons, the functions that are lost as a result of TBI may be restored.
In the current study, published in the journal Brain Research, scientists studied 40 patients who had experienced TBI. Half the patients were selected to act as a control, receiving no treatment, while the other half was given 4 transplantations of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells through the spine. All 40 patients were evaluated both before any treatment was administered, as well as 6 months later. Specifically, each patient underwent the Fugl-Meyer Assessments (FMA), which assesses balance, motor functioning, and sensation, as well as the Functional Independence Measures (FIM), which tests both motor and cognitive functioning.
Though the control group of patients who did not receive any medical intervention did not improve in their FMA and FIM assessments over the 6 month period, the patients who received the stem cell transplants improved on both measures of functioning. In the FMA, improvements were observed in scores for upper extremity and lower extremity motor performance as well as for balance and sensation. In the FIM, a number of scores increased over the 6 month period for the treatment group, including those for self care, mobility, locomotion, communication, and social cognition.
These results demonstrate the great promise of stem cells generally – and of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells specifically – for the treatment of symptoms resulting from TBI. Further studies will be needed to help clarify the specific ways that these stem cells may be able to help patients who have suffered a TBI, and studies that involve multiple centers and larger sample sizes of patients are likely to occur in the future to help in the development of relevant treatments.
Wang, S. et al. (2013). Umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell transplantation significantly improves neurological function in patietns with sequelae of traumatic brain injury. Brain Research, 1532, 76-84.