Unfortunately, injuries of the spinal column are not an uncommon thing. Studies have shown that incidences like these happen in up to 80 million people each year. Typically, these accidents are caused by falls, violence with knives or guns, and car accidents, along with arthritis or cancer. Spinal cord injuries can cause damage that interferes with normal functioning of motor skills, as well as sensory perceptions.(1)
There are set standards as to how severe and impairing these injuries to the spinal column can be, and they are determined by the American Spinal Injury Association. The worst is complete paralysis, and with it comes an increased risk of death, since there can be complications with breathing, blood clots, infections, and long-lasting nerve pain, just to name a few.(1)
Thankfully, because of stem cells and their ability to differentiate into multiple types of cells, they have been vastly studied in regards to helping improve and treat spinal cord injuries. This is imperative, seeing as how less than 3% of people with injuries such as these regain any type of functional strength back.(2)
Research has been done for more than twenty years on using stem cells for spinal cord injuries, because of the fact that repairing tissues and improving the networks between the nervous systems is what can lead to better treatment of people with injuries like this. Stem cells have the ability to renew themselves as well, so paired with being able to make themselves into different cell types is best for spinal injuries.(2)
Studies have shown that after damage to the spinal cord, the body actually tries to repair itself; however, scar tissue is formed by some cells, which inhibits re-growth. This is where stem cells come in to help decrease the amount of functional loss. Promoting growth in areas of damage seems to help repair certain areas of the body, especially the spinal column! Amazingly, research has shown that stem cells have the ability to differentiate into neural cells, which can then assist in the recovery and repair process.(3)
The outlook for stem cell research is very promising! A fantastic example is a recent one…a man was paralyzed in 2016 from injuries due to a car accident. In order to hopefully promote function back into his limbs and increase quality of life, he underwent treatment with stem cells that were aimed to stimulate growth of nerve cells as well as forming new blood vessels that could bring fresh oxygen and blood to the site of injury. Amazingly enough, this man was able to regain function and participate in activities of daily living after about 3 months of treatment!(4)
Although there is much research still needing to be done in regards to the extent at which stem cells can be utilized in order to help renew, regenerate, and repair injuries that can lead to full or partial paralysis, the future is promising. Granted, just stem cell therapy in and of itself is not enough to fully heal the devastating effects of paralysis and spinal cord injuries; however, combining these regenerative and protective cells with other therapeutic modalities will hopefully help begin to heal and treat many injuries that are out there today and get people back to functioning normally.(1)
If you have questions about potential treatments for spinal cord injuries or improving/increasing your quality of living after suffering from an injury such as this, contact your local functional medicine doctors around the Denver area and they would be more than happy to speak with you about your options!
(1) Gazdic, M., Volarevic, V., Harrell, C. R., Fellabaum, C., Jovicic, N., Arsenijevic, N., & Stojkovic, M. (2018). Stem Cells Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(4), 1039. doi:10.3390/ijms19041039
(2) Shroff G. (2016). Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy in Chronic Spinal Cord Injury: A Retrospective Study. Clinical and translational science, 9(3), 168–175. doi:10.1111/cts.12394
(3) Nandoe Tewarie, R. S., Hurtado, A., Bartels, R. H., Grotenhuis, A., & Oudega, M. (2009). Stem cell-based therapies for spinal cord injury. The journal of spinal cord medicine, 32(2), 105–114.