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Nerve Cell Transplants: The Future of Spinal Cord Injury Treatment?

November 21, 2011

An exciting new procedure, which could lead to the use of nerve cell transplants as a treatment for Skokie spinal cord injuries, is currently being considered for phase I trial testing by the FDA. The experiment was announced in late October at an international meeting sponsored by the United 2 Fight Paralysis Foundation. It has shown positive signs in animal testing. Another key advantage of this potential treatment is that it avoids the need for patients to take immunosuppressive medications.

W. Dalton Dietrich of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis submitted an application to the FDA for permission to begin phase I testing on human subjects. The technique will work as follows:

  • A patient’s own mature Schwann cells are harvested from a nerve in the leg
  • The cells are then grown in large numbers in a laboratory
  • The cells are transplanted back into the injured spinal cord
  • The new cells repair the damage to the spinal cord

By utilizing the patient’s own cells, the risk of rejection by the body is avoided. Schwann cells are used in the procedure because they offer the following benefits:

  • Provide proteins that protect nerve cells after injury
  • Protect and insulate nerve fibers
  • Support the repair of damaged neurons
  • Encourage new nerve axons to grow and reconnect 
  • Wrap myelin around the fibers

Schwann cells do not grow in the brain or spinal cord. The goal of transplanting them into the spinal cord is that they will guide the neurons in the central nervous system to grow and repair the damaged connections in the spinal cord. The technique has proven successful in animals and is now poised to be attempted using human subjects.

While many researchers have expressed frustration that this research has taken so long to be conducted on humans, there is excitement and hope among the spinal cord research community over the potential of this technique. For more information, contact an experienced Skokie spinal cord injury attorney by calling (847) 651-7191.

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