Engineered tissue containing human stem cells has allowed paraplegic rats to walk independently and regain sensory perception.
The research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, demonstrates the great potential of stem cells – undifferentiated cells that can develop into numerous different types of cells – to treat spinal cord injury.
Led by Dr. Shulamit Levenberg, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the researchers implanted human stem cells into rats with a complete spinal cord transection.
Rats treated with the engineered tissue containing stem cells showed higher motor and sensory recovery compared to control rats. Three weeks after introduction of the stem cells, 42% of the implanted paraplegic rats showed a markedly improved ability to support weight on their hind limbs and walk. In contrast, control paraplegic rats that did not receive stem cells showed no improved mobility or sensory responses.
An important area for further research will be to determine why stem cell implantation worked in some cases but not others.