A couple of weeks ago, scientists published findings showing that implanting human stem cells that are embedded within the engineered tissue can lead to the recovery of sensory perception in rats. The recovery of sensory perception is also accompanied by healing within the spinal cord and the ability to walk independently. The stem cells used in this experiment were collected from the membrane lining the mouth.
These results help demonstrate the potential for stem cells to help with spinal cord injuries but also point to the utility of combining stem cells with other factors to enhance their therapeutic effects. In this case, the researchers used a 3-dimensional scaffold to enable stem cells to attach and to stabilize them in the spinal cord. By adding growth factors, such as human thrombin and fibrinogen to the engineered tissue scaffolding, the researchers also increased the chances that attached stem cells would grow and differentiate.
The researchers compared the effects of their stem cell implants in paraplegic rats with the effects of adding no stem cells. Whereas the control rats who did not receive stem cells did not experience any improvement in mobility or sensation, 42% of the rats that did receive stem cells became better at supporting their weight on their hind limbs and at walking.
While these results are pre-clinical and do not apply directly to humans, the researchers conclude that further research is warranted. Given the positive impact of stem cells on the spinal cord in animals, it is reasonable to assume that stem cells may also benefit the human spinal cord. Further research will help clarify whether these stem cells can be adequately used to help treat patients with paraplegia.