Future hope for spinal cord injury clients following stem cell trials | Fieldfisher
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Future hope for spinal cord injury clients following stem cell trials

Nick Godwin

For people who suffer catastrophic spinal cord injuries, often resulting from car accidents and workplace injuries, neurosurgeons at the Mayo Clinic have offered up some future hope after trialling new ways of isolating mesenchymal stem cells from a patient's abdomen fat. These special stem cells are said to be able to 'hone in' on injuries and encourage repair and regeneration.

Results from the experimental therapy, which involves removing fat from the abdomen or thigh, isolating the stem cells and then injecting them back into the spine, have shown a series of improvements among paralysed patients.

Once removed, the cells are grown in a laboratory for four weeks until they multiply to around 100 million. Once reinjected they migrate to the damaged area and begin their work.

In early trials involving 10 patients, seven reported increased sensation in their body and improved strength in the muscles used for movement.

Two of three patients with no feeling or movement beneath the injury regained some sensation and some movement control.

Chris Barr, of Lafayette, California, was the first person to receive the treatment after damaging his spine in a surfing accident in 2017.

Fifteen months after being injected with his stem cells, it was reported that Mr Barr could walk 30ft in 23 seconds and, later, he was able to complete the same distance in 13 seconds.

Dr Mohamad Bydon, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon and first author of the study, said in a press interview that the results indicate that severe spinal cord injuries that were once thought irreparable, could be treatable in the future.

"For years, treatment of spinal cord injury has been limited to supportive care, more specifically stabilisation surgery and physical therapy," Dr Bydon said.

"Many textbooks state that this condition does not improve. In recent years, we have seen findings from the medical and scientific community that challenge prior assumptions. This research is a step forward toward to the ultimate goal of improving treatments for patients."

In Britain, around 50,000 people are living with a spinal cord injury, with about 2,500 new injuries each year.

Those who suffer injury to their spinal cord are often left without movement below the site of the injury and show little, if any, physical improvement over time.

Although stem cell treatment and trials having been ongoing for some years, they are still very much in their infancy, so any prospect of a "cure" may still be far on the horizon. But having seen the impact for many clients who have suffered spinal cord injuries in the course of my work, this ongoing research, and the prospect of any improvement to their condition and their quality of life, however modest, must be seen as a clear positive and updates from the trial are keenly awaited. 

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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