Intravenous injection of bone marrow-derived stem cells (MSCs) in patients with spinal cord injuries produced a significant improvement in motor functions, researchers from Yale University and Japan reported February 18 in the Journal of Clinical. Neurology and Neurosurgery.
In more than half of the patients, substantial improvements in key functions, such as the ability to walk or use their hands, were seen within weeks of the stem cell injection, the researchers report. No substantial side effects were reported.
The patients had suffered blunt spinal cord injuries, in many cases from falls or minor trauma, several weeks prior to stem cell implantation. His symptoms included loss of motor function and coordination, sensory loss, as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction. The stem cells were prepared from the patients’ own bone marrow, using a culture protocol that took a few weeks in a specialized cell processing center. Cells were injected intravenously in this series, with each patient serving as their own control. The results were not blinded and there were no placebo controls.
Yale scientists Jeffery D. Kocsis, professor of neurology and neuroscience, and Stephen G. Waxman, professor of neurology, neuroscience, and pharmacology, were lead authors of the study, which was conducted with researchers at Sapporo Medical University in Japan. Key researchers on the Sapporo team, Osamu Honmou and Masanori Sasaki, both hold positions of adjunct professors in neurology at Yale.
Kocsis and Waxman emphasize that additional studies will be needed to confirm the results of this preliminary, unblinded trial. They also emphasize 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 can be clinically useful, ”Kocsis noted. “This clinical study is the culmination of extensive preclinical laboratory work using MSC among colleagues at Yale and Sapporo over many years.”
“The idea that we can restore function after brain and spinal cord injury using the patient’s own stem cells has intrigued us for years, ”Waxman said. “Now we have a clue, in humans, that it may be possible.”