June 6, 2007

Physical therapy could play a critical role in new stem cell treatment that hints at restoring lower extremity function among patients debilitated by spinal cord ischemia.

A procedure that injects human stem cells into rats with induced spinal cord ischemia has restored the ability to walk among test subjects, according to research findings reported in the June 29, 2007 issue of Neuroscience (www.jneurosci.org). The report proposes that the same procedure in human patients, followed by a physical therapy program, could significantly improve functional recover outcomes for the lower extremities.  

“Physical therapy may accelerate integration of the grafted stem cells and enhance their therapeutic benefit,” Karl Johe, one of the research study’s co-authors, says. The treatment’s objective, Johe added, is to create a substantial gain in the functional mobility of a patient’s legs.

In the ischemia research model, the spinal cord is left free of mechanical damage, unlike the type of spinal injury caused by accident trauma. The new procedure would replace neurons lost to spinal cord ischemia by grafting new spinal cord stem cells, thereby repopulating the pool of degenerated neurons.

“We demonstrated that when damage has occurred due to a loss of blood flow to the spine’s neural cells, by grafting human neural stem cells directly into the spinal cord we can achieve a progressive recovery of motor function,” Martin Marsala, MD, says. Marsala, who led the study, is professor of anesthesiology at University of California, San Diego.

“In this study,” added Johe, “we succeeded at reconstructing the neural circuitry, which had not been done before.”

Source: Medical News Today