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Yale University scientists repair an injured spinal cord using patients’ stem cells

Intravenous injection of bone marrow-derived stem cells (MSCs) into patients with spinal cord injury significantly improved motor function, according to the report of researchers from Yale University and Japan on February 18 in The Journal of Clinical Neuroscience and Neurosurgery.

The researchers report that, for more than half of the patients, significant improvements in key functions – such as the ability to walk or use their hands – were observed within weeks of the stem cell injection. No significant side effects were reported.

Patients had suffered non-penetrating injuries to the spinal cord, in many cases from falls or minor trauma, several weeks before the stem cell transplant. Their symptoms included loss of motor function and coordination, loss of senses, as well as impaired bowel and bladder. The stem cells were prepared from the patient’s bone marrow, via a transplant protocol that took a few weeks at a specialized cell-processing center. Cells were injected intravenously into this series, with each patient acting as their own control. Results were not blinded and there were no placebo controls.

Yale University scientists Jeffrey De Cochis, professor of neuroscience and neuroscience, and Stephen J. Waxman, professor of neuroscience, neuroscience and pharmacology, were the leading authors of the study, which was conducted with researchers at Sapporo Medical University in Japan. The principal researchers on the Sapporo team, Osamu Honmo and Masanori Sasaki, both hold the positions of Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Yale University.

Kocsis and Waxman contend that additional studies will be needed to confirm the results of this initial, unblinded trial. They also contend that this could take years. Despite the challenges, they remain optimistic.

“Similar results with stem cells in stroke patients increase our confidence that this approach may be clinically beneficial,” Coxis noted. “This clinical study is the culmination of extensive preclinical laboratory work using MSCs among Yale and Sapporo colleagues over many years.”

“The idea that we might be able to restore function after brain and spinal cord injury using patient stem cells has piqued our interest for years,” said Waxman. “Now we have a hint, in humans, that it might be possible.”

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