Can Stem Cells and a Gel Repair Older Spinal Injuries?

Interesting research has shown stem cells, in combination with a jelly-like polymer called hydrogel, may create a bridge that can heal long-standing spinal cord injuries.

The physical attributes of hydrogel, a Jello-like substance made almost completely of water, create an environment in which neurons could grow, creating support for more delicate cells and allowing for the transmission of chemical signals that govern neural development.

Scientists tested the process on 28 rats by removing spinal tissues and replacing them with hydrogel filled with stem cells from rat bone marrow. Four weeks later, the rats displayed wonderful neural regrowth and recovered much of the limb functioning they lost.

The jury's out on how effective this procedure will be for humans because our spinal cords are about 10 times thicker than rats. Nevertheless, expect to hear about clinical trial within the next five years.

Just to clarify, I believe technology using adult stem cells, and not fetal cells, may be one of the most significant health advances of this century. That's why I expect we will continue to see miraculous results as time progresses through more practical applications of this technology.

Wired News March 29, 2006

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