Spinal cord and its main functions

The spinal cord is a very important part of our body responsible for relaying messages from brain to different parts of the body and transmitting information to the brain. Besides, spinal cord provides main support to our body.

Effects of spinal cord injury (SCI)

Spinal cord is quite prone to injury. Since spinal cord plays vital body function, its injury results in several short- and long-term complications, most importantly loss of motor function such as walking, muscle control, and body balance. SCI results in multiple disabilities, which have negative impact on health and well-being of a person. Another problem with SCI is that unlike other body parts, spinal cord is unable to repair the damage caused by any trauma.

Current incidence of spinal cord injury

One of the most common causes of SCI is the trauma related to motor vehicle accidents. With increased number of automobiles, the occurrence of motor vehicle accidents is growing day by day, which in turn resulted in increased incidence of SCI.

Is there complete cure for spinal cord injury?

The worst part of SCI is that it is impossible to reverse the damage to the spinal cord. Till now no complete cure for SCI is known. The objective of SCI treatment is not just to restore the motor functions, but also to alleviate other disabilities caused by this damage. Traditional treatments of SCI involve medications, surgical decompression, and aggressive physical therapy and rehabilitation following surgery in order to speed up the recovery process. Another important point to be considered regarding SCI cure is prompt treatment, preferably within the first 6 months of injury; otherwise the damage becomes permanent.

Stem cell therapy to treat spinal cord injury

Treatment of SCI is long-term and quite expensive and in spite of that, there is no chance of complete cure. Currently, researchers are considering stem cell therapy as an alternative treatment approach for SCI. Stem cells possess two important characteristics, such as ability to differentiate into various cell types and capacity to self-renew. Another property of stem cells that make them an important candidate for therapy is that they produce cytokines, growth factors, and trophic factors, which aid in neuro-protection. Multiple case studies and research publications support the probability of treating SCI with autologous adult stem cells such as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) derived from human bone marrow. In this procedure, bone marrow is harvested from both hips and later these bone-marrow derived stem cells are administered to the same patient. Since, the patient is receiving his/her own stem cells, there is no immunorejection. MSCs usually prevent activation of inflammatory responses, which cause cell death. Moreover, stem cell therapy is a a quite safe method with minimum side-effects

Is stem cell therapy successful to treat SCI

Different types of stem cells can be used to treat SCI. Besides, MSCs, embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from adult skin cells can also be used for SCI treatment. Human studies using MSCs and ESCs to treat SCI have been published. Functional recovery using MSCs is mixed, ESCs are resilient. However, there are no clinical studies using iPSCs. At present, numerous experimental and clinical studies reveal promising results with regard to functional improvement with stem cell therapy for SCI. Although the exact mechanism of stem cell therapy is still not known, this technique provides a clue to solve the challenges which conventional therapy is unable to do.