can be cured! Japanese stem cells have been approved for marketing, and Yale University has confirmed that the effective rate of stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury exceeds 90%

According to data from the World Health Organization, 250000 to 500000 people worldwide suffer from spinal cord injuries each year due to reasons such as trauma, and current treatment methods have limited efficacy.

With the continuous development of stem cell therapy, scientists from various countries have successively invested in the research of overcoming spinal cord injury, and have achieved initial results. In 2018, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare approved the launch of the autologous mesenchymal stem cell therapy product (Stemirac) for the treatment of spinal cord injury and included it in the National Health Insurance, bringing a new dawn to the rehabilitation of spinal cord injury patients.

Spinal cord injury difficult to reverse

Spinal cord injury (SCI) usually refers to the external influence on the spinal cord, causing partial or complete paralysis of the injured area and below. It is the main cause of disability.

SCI is commonly seen in various traumatic accidents (such as car accidents, falls and falls, sports injuries, crush injuries, and gunshot injuries). Unlike other progressive neurological diseases, severe neurological deficits after SCI often lead to various sensory and motor dysfunction disorders such as hemiplegia and paraplegia in patients.

This is the result of a combined effect of primary injury, inflammation, spinal tissue degeneration, and scar formation in secondary injuries.

For a long time, spinal cord injury has been a difficult problem that cannot be solved clinically. But the development of stem cell technology is expected to reverse this situation

Researchers from Yale University and Sapporo Medical University in Japan jointly released a study that used stem cells to repair spinal cord injury patients. In a clinical trial, 12 out of 13 patients who received autologous mesenchymal stem cell therapy showed significant improvement in neurological function after six months of treatment, with over half of the patients experiencing substantial improvement in key functions such as walking and using their hands.

Intravenous infusion of autologous serum to expand mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of 13 cases of spinal cord injury

This experiment has demonstrated the feasibility, safety, and effectiveness of using stem cells to treat these patients, bringing new hope to this group of patients.

Why can stem cells treat spinal cord injury

Stem cells have the ability to self renew and differentiate in multiple directions, and can differentiate into different types of cells such as neurons under specific conditions. They also have the potential to repair damage, regenerate neural networks, and promote neural recovery. Moreover, many basic and clinical experiments using stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries have achieved promising results. Stem cells exert therapeutic effects mainly through the following mechanisms:

1. Paracrine characteristics

Stem cells have significant autocrine and paracrine activity, and can support the regeneration and proliferation of remaining neurons by secreting various neurotrophic factors such as nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, glial derived neurotrophic factor, etc. They can also protect surviving neurons.

2. Immune regulation

Stem cells can also secrete interleukin-10 (IL-10) and transforming proliferation factors- β (TGF)- β) By exerting immune regulatory effects, it helps to control neuroinflammation, thereby reducing damage to surrounding tissues and inhibiting the occurrence of secondary spinal cord injury.

3. Repair nerve damage

Stem cells have the ability to differentiate into a lineage of glial cells (including neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes), which can inhibit glial proliferation, myelinate exposed axons, promote better growth of neural processes, and provide nutritional support for endogenous cells, thus facilitating the recovery of spinal cord injury.

4. Others

Stem cells can participate in tissue regeneration and functional recovery after spinal cord injury. After transplantation to the site of injury, they can further promote the repair of the blood-spinal cord barrier, vascular and nerve regeneration, ultimately achieving the goal of improving spinal cord injury.

The current situation of stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury at home and abroad

In 2018, Japan conditionally approved the launch of the autologous mesenchymal stem cell therapy product Stemirac, with indications for spinal cord injury; In 2023, the Guangdong Provincial Hospital Association of China released the group standard "Clinical Technical Specification for Subarachnoid Transplantation of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells for the Treatment of Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury" to better adapt to the development needs of cell therapy.

With the progress of clinical practice, people are increasingly concerned about the clinical efficacy of stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury

In 2020, a new study published by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden in the journal Science showed that stem cells can help repair the injured spinal cord [1], proving that stimulating the formation of a large number of new oligodendrocytes in the mouse spinal cord, which are necessary for neuronal signaling, can help repair the injured spinal cord.

A study published in September 2020 in the journal Neural Regeneration Research elucidated the results of umbilical cord derived mesenchymal stem cell therapy for acute complete spinal cord injury. The preliminary conclusion of this clinical trial is that human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells can promote the recovery of neurological function after acute spinal cord injury and have significant therapeutic effects [2].

In May of this year, the American Journal of Case Reports published an article titled "Safe Reversal of Motor and Sensory Defects by Repeated High Doses of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in a Patient with Chronic Complete Spinal Cord Injury".

In 2023, researchers reported a clinical trial (registration number NCT04288934) conducted at the Cell Therapy Center (CTC) of the University of Jordan in the United States. In this clinical study, researchers selected a patient with chronic traumatic complete spinal cord injury (SCI) who received intrathecal injection of Wharton's glial mesenchymal stem cells (WJ-MSC). Long term follow-up showed continuous improvement in the patient's sensory and motor functions, as well as improved quality of life scores [3]. These results indicate that umbilical cord Huatong's glial mesenchymal stem cells have a potential role in the treatment of chronic and severe spinal cord injury.

Stem cell therapy cannot be achieved without clinical trial validation before its launch. Whether internationally or domestically, the release of every clinical trial data is a further step towards the clinical application of stem cell therapy. I hope that in the future, we will have a new treatment for spinal cord injury that is different from today, bringing good news to paralyzed patients.

Reference: 10.1126/science.abb8795

Wu-Sheng D, Ma K, Liang B, et al. Collagen scaffold combined with human umbilical cord-mesenchymal stem cells transplantation for acute complete spinal cord injury[J]. Neural Regeneration Research, 2020, 15(9): 1686-1700.

amali F, Alqudah M, Rahmeh R, Bawaneh H, Al-Shudifat A, Samara O, Awidi A. Safe Reversal of Motor and Sensory Deficits by Repeated High Doses of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in a Patient with Chronic Complete Spinal Cord Injury. Am J Case Rep. 2023 May 13;24:e938576. doi: 10.12659/AJCR.938576. PMID: 37177780; PMCID: PMC10190172.