Posted: Oct 29, 2010
The start of the first clinical trial evaluating the use of embryonic stem cells in patients with spinal cord injuries has been widely reported in the media. What the news coverage doesn’t mention is that newborn stem cells from cord blood and cord tissue are also being researched in animals for use in spinal cord repair based on their ability to help prevent further damage and stimulate healing.(1,2 ,3)
Unlike embryonic stem cells, cord blood stem cells have been used in human patients for more than 20 years and have an established safety profile. And using a person’s own stem cells (like those that come from their bone marrow or umbilical cord) eliminates the need for immunosuppressive therapies and carries no risk of rejection.
Laboratory research using newborn stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries in animal models has shown encouraging results. Cord tissue stem cells injected into animal models of severed spinal cords demonstrated the ability to stimulate regeneration, reduce scar formation and significantly improve motor function compared to controls.(4) Additional studies found that cord blood stem cells significantly increased the rate of improvement in motor function compared to controls in animal models of acute compression injuries (5) and that the stem cells’ therapeutic effects may be a result of their ability to reduce inflammation and promote wound healing.(6)
A clinical trial was also recently initiated to investigate the safety and efficacy of cord blood for the treatment of chronic spinal cord injuries by the China Spinal Cord Injury Network in collaboration with the University of Hong Kong.(7) The trial plans to enroll 20 adult patients who will receive HLA-matched cord blood injections with neurological and walking outcomes assessed 3 days and 1, 2, 6, 24 and 48 weeks after treatment.
Although additional work is needed to determine the safety, efficacy and cell administration, preclinical research evaluating the use of newborn stem cells in spinal cord injury is showing encouraging results and demonstrates yet another condition that could potentially benefit from this therapeutic approach.
1) Neuhoff S, et al. Proliferation, differentiation and cytokine secretion of human umbilical cord blood-derived mononuclear cells in vitro. Exp Hematol. Jul 2007;35(7):1119-1131.
2) Newman MB, et al. Cytokines produced by cultured human umbilical cord blood (HUCB) cells: implications for brain repair. Exp Neurol. May 2006:199(1):201-208.
3) Cho SR, et al. Neurally induced umbilical cord blood cells modestly repair injured spinal cords. Neuroreport. Aug 27 2008:19(13):1259-1263.
4) Yang CC, et al. Transplantation of human umbilical mesenchymal stem cells from Wharton’s jelly after complete transaction of the rat spinal cord. PLoS One. 2008;3(10):e3336.
5) Chua SJ, et al. The effect of umbilical cod blood cells on outcomes after experimental traumatic spinal cord injury. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). Jul 15;35(16):1520-1526.
6) Veeravalli KK, et al. Human umbilical cord blood stem cell upregulate matrix metalloproteinase-2 in rats after spinal cord injury. Neurobiol Dis. Oct 2009;36(1):200-212.
7)Safety and Feasibility of Umbilical Cord Blood Cell Transplantation Into Injured Spinal Cord. China Spinal Cord Injury Network. ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT0146786.