Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University have formulated a new method of using stem cells to repair injured spinal cords in laboratory mice. This new method was so successful that paralyzed mice were ale to walk again.
"This is an important first step, but it really is a first step, a proof of principle that . . . you can rewire part of the nervous system," said Dr. Douglas Kerr, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University. The study appears in the journal Annals of Neurology.
The research provides hope that stem cells may be used in future to help people with Lou Gehrig's disease or spinal cord injuries. However the study also demonstrated that it would not be easy to use stem cells in treating complex diseases. The research may bring "the appropriate tempering of expectations of stem cells," said Kerr.. "Some of my patients say, 'Oh, I'm going to pull into the stem-cell station and get my infusion of stem cells,' and it's never going to be that."
Stem cells are considered the building blocks of life in that they can turn into any form of tissue in the body. Kerr and his team mixed the stem cells with the chemicals that turn them into neurons and then transplanted them into the spinal cords of the mice. Other rats received stem cells mixed with a growth factor called GDNF, injections of chemicals or substances to boost their survival chances.
Only the rats, which received all of the above improved, Kerr said. The next step is to conduct the same study in pigs, he added.