All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for July 2003

Overcoming Paralysis

Stem cells shown to aid motor function recovery in rats

July 16, 2003
By Thomas Sexton
Psychology Today

Promising new evidence suggests stem cell therapy may be useful in treating spinal chord injuries and diseases. A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that human stem cells injected into paralyzed rats helped them regain some control of their legs.

After examining the rodents, researchers made a surprising discovery: very few of the stem cells actually turned into new replacement neurons as expected. Instead, the cells came to the aid of the rats' struggling neurons.

Although the stem cells' exact role in recovery remains unclear, researchers suspect that two proteins secreted by the human cells served to both strengthen imperiled neurons and help reform the neural connections critical to nerve function.

Furthermore, the study found that stem cells were naturally attracted to injured areas in the spinal chord. "The [nerve] cells that aren't dead may in some way send signals," explains Michael Shamblott, Ph.D., assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and contributor to the study. "Stem cells can pick up on these cues."

According to Shamblott, this may be "the most profound aspect of the work." It introduces an efficient means of treating the entire spine, a method that may be more effective than focusing on a number of localized areas of damage.

Though use of stem cells to treat human illness is still a long way off, Shamblott hopes this research may ultimately lead to effective treatments of a number of nervous system diseases including multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

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