Stem cell transplants may help regain sensory functions in spinal cord injury patients
Road collisions or severe falls can lead to severe traumatic spinal cord injuries, which may result in a seriously disabling condition, involving paralysis, loss of sensation, and often chronic, intractable, neuropathic pain. Sometimes a surgical intervention along with intensive multisystem medical management and rehabilitative care can help patients stabilize. However, nothing has been proven to be effective in restoring sensory function so far. It is an irreversible neurological deficit, a result of disconnection between the peripheral and central nervous systems. Therefore, it is critical to identify new treatment modalities, which can bridge the gap created by spinal cord injury, and revive the damaged connections.
Studies have already demonstrated the great regenerative potential of stem cells to heal the damage areas that result from spinal cord injury. Recently, a study conducted by Elena Kozlova from the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University showed that transplanted human stem cells can significantly restore some of the sensory functions in a spinal cord injury mice model. Researchers demonstrated that transplanted human neural progenitor (hNP) cells can successfully restore sensory functions by bridging avulsed sensory fibers with the spinal cord. It was clearly observed that sensory fibers had grown through the bridge and showed robust survival and differentiation of the transplants. Further, responses to peripheral mechanical sensory stimulation were also significantly improved in transplanted animals .
The study demonstrated that stem cell transplants can potentially improve sensorimotor outcomes in a spinal cord injury model. However, further studies are needed to answer some crucial questions about the ability of transplanted stem cells to improve regeneration of avulsed fibers. But it is likely that stem cells have several beneficial qualities that may enhance regeneration.
 Human embryonic stem cell-derived progenitors assist functional sensory regeneration after dorsal root avulsion injury. Hoeber J, Trolle C, König N, Du Z, Gallo A, Hermans E, Aldskogius H, Shortland P, Zheng, S-C, Deumens R, Kozlova EN. Scientific Reports. 2015; doi:10.1038/srep10666