The scientists carried out their study on eight patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) – four with acute SCI and four with chronic. Each patient received his or her own bone-marrow stem cells (BMCs) by injection into the spinal column, the spinal canal and the bloodstream. The participants were followed for two years, being regularly checked using MRI imaging to observe spinal cord changes.
“Our objective in this study was to demonstrate that multiple-route administration of BMCs for SCI is safe and feasible,” said corresponding author Francisco Silva. “To date, we have administered BMCs into 52 patients with SCI and have had no tumor formations, no cases of infection or increased pain, and few instances of minor adverse events. We also found that patient quality of life improved.”
At present, there is no cure or real therapy for spinal cord injury, which affects millions of people around the world. It’s generally agreed that a successful treatment would improve patient quality of life and lead to increases in function.
In the eight patients who received BMC transplants through multiple routes, the researchers noted several functional improvements, the most significant of which was better bladder control.
The researchers theorized that the results produced by the BMC injections came about because they stimulated the growth of blood vessels in the spine.
“BMCs are well known for their ability to grow blood vessels,” explained Silva. “This angiogenesis [blood vessel growth] is necessary for wound healing and establishing a growth-permissive environment. We hypothesized that improved blood flow and oxygen supply could contribute to functional improvements for SCI transplanted with [the patients’ own] BMCs.”