Cell Therapy

Cell view from a microscope. © istock/ someone25

Promising cell therapy could help spinal-cord injury patients in recovery

A study published in Scientific Reports last November looked at the use of a promising cell therapy to help spinal-cord injury (SCI) patients recover some independent functions soon after their injury. 

“Stem cells are unique in that they can divide indefinitely and can turn into multiple different types of cells,” says Cathy Seiler, PhD, program manager for the tissue biorepository at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix (read her science blog, thingsitellmymom.com). Seiler was not involved in the study.

For example, during human development, embryonic stem cells have the ability to turn into all of the different cell types throughout the body – such as liver cells, lung cells and skin cells. Stem cells have also been found in adults, but instead of being able to turn into all types of cells (pluripotent), they are usually able to turn into one or several types of cells (multipotent).  

Scientists have thought that this ability for stem cells to continually grow and turn into different cell types could be harnessed to treat a number of diseases that involve cell death, including SCI.

In this publication, the authors isolate multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) from the bone marrow to determine if injecting these cells into a rat whose spinal cord has been crushed will help reverse the effects of the SCI.

When MAPCs are injected into a rat vein one day after injury, the rats recover more mobility and the ability to urinate on their own compared to rats without treatment or rats treated immediately with MAPCs.

One might assume that the MAPCs have this effect by converging on the injured area of the spinal cord and regrowing nerve cells. However, the authors found that this wasn’t the case. In fact, the MAPCs moved to the outside edges of the injury and even more to the spleen. The spleen is where many of the body’s immune cells are stored. In SCI, the immune system is a double-edged sword, cleaning up the damage from the injury itself but also attacking the injury and making more damage.   

There is evidence from this paper that the MAPCs in the spleen decrease the damaging effect on the SCI from the immune cells in the spleen.  

It is a promising result that provides hope for this type of therapy in SCI patients.


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