Cell Transplant Gives Hope to Victims of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be life changing, as injuries to the neck or back may result in paralysis. The spinal cord is rarely able to rebuild itself if it is badly damaged in an accident. A person suffering from a spinal cord injury may have reduced sensation or mobility, and in severe cases, an individual may be a paraplegic or quadriplegic for the rest of his or her life. However, a new study is giving hope to paraplegics, quadriplegics and other spinal cord injury victims in the San Francisco area.

Researchers in a randomized, double-blind study at Cambridge University found they were able to repair the damage to the spinal cords of paralyzed dogs by taking cells from the dogs' noses and implanting them in the injured spines. None of the dogs that received the cells had adverse health effects.

Researchers collected certain cells from the dogs' noses and cultured them in Petri dishes for three to five weeks. The cells were then injected into the dogs' spines. The dogs' mobility was assessed on treadmills before and after the treatment. Although the procedure did not restore communication between the brain and the dogs' legs, it restored mobility and coordination to the legs.

The nose cells that were transplanted are called olfactory ensheathing cells. These cells communicate between the central and peripheral nervous systems, traveling smell signals directly to the brain. They also regenerate, unlike other central nervous system cells.

The study's findings are undoubtedly encouraging for those suffering from paraplegia. However, more research needs to be done before the potential treatment could be tested on the nearly 200,000 people in the United States currently living with spinal cord injuries.

Source: ABC News, "Paralyzed dogs walk again with nose cell transplant," Sydney Lupkin, Nov. 19, 2012

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