Thousands of Americans suffer from a spinal cord injury and stem cell research could give those patients the relief that even doctors didn’t think was possible.
There are over 10,000 new spinal cord injury cases every year in the United States. Half of these spinal cord injuries are due to vehicle accidents, and the other half are due to falls, sports injuries, or acts of violence. Surprisingly, about 80% of victims are male and many are below the age of 50. The minimum average medical cost for a patient over their lifetime is $500,000.
The most common symptom of a spinal cord injury is acute to severe paralysis. This variance in symptoms depends on the severity of the accident and the exact location of injury on the spine. If the injury is somewhere in the lower spine, known as a lumbar injury, patients may experience lower body paralysis. In less severe cases, patients will undergo rigorous physical therapy and make a full recovery. If the injury is very high on the spine, known as a cervical injury, patients may experience quadriplegia. The likelihood of making a full recovery from a cervical injury is less than 1%.
There are currently no prevalent reparative treatments for spinal cord injuries. Dependent on the type of injury, quite a few interventions are in use today to help patients make partial to full recoveries. The most common interventions are physical therapy, occupational therapy, ventilation (for high cervical injuries), bowel management, and bone loss medications.
None of these common interventions directly repair the bone or injured tissue. Fortunately, adult stem cells have the ability to actually repair and restore a patients spine.
Adult stem cell treatment
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to differentiate into other types of cells in the body. There are many different types of stem cells and they are the foundation for every organ and tissue. For an in-depth description of stem cells and their abilities, click here.
To treat spinal cord injuries, stem cells are derived from fat tissue called adult adipose tissue. These stem cells are relatively easy to harvest and the procedure is very safe. Doctors suction the fat using a special syringe from an area of the body like the thigh or stomach. The stem cells are isolated and the final product is called Stromal Vascular Fraction (SVF).
To treat the spinal cord injury, the adult stem cells are injected into the soft tissue around the injured area. This procedure is known as deployment. No stem cells are injected directly into the spinal cord.
Results and continuous research
This procedure is still very new, thus there is no definite conclusion for how effective stem cells are in treating spinal cord injuries. So far, most patients who have undergone this treatment have seen some form of improvement. Most experience better bladder and bowel control, and some patients actually experience enhanced muscle strength and higher functionality. The timeline for noticeable improvement is about two months to one year post-procedure.
Stem cell research will continue as the ability of these cells are a fairly new medical discovery. Furthermore, stem cells could be the go-to treatment for the thousands of new spinal cord injuries that occur every year.