Have you ever witnessed a healing miracle? Well, in a recent study, scientists used engineered tissue containing human stem cells (among other substances) to slightly heal the spines of paralyzed mice with spinal injuries, and enable them to walk again and regain sensory perception. This is monumental, because recovering substantially after spinal injuries is unheard of, so far.
The stem cells were taken from human mouth membrane, and were transformed into “support cells” that help neuron growth and sustenance. The researchers had constructed a 3D model that provided a setting where the stem cells could develop and transform into the support cells. The scientists then inserted the cells at different intervals in the spinal cords of the rats.
Three weeks later, they were proved successful. 42% of the rats with treatment were able to support weight on their legs and walk, 75% responded to stimuli to the legs, and the cuts in the spines of most subsided. Meanwhile, the rats not receiving treatment showed no sign of improvement. This shows that implanting the engineered tissue was effective. Though this does not give us the answer to how to fully cure spine injuries in humans, it leads us a step toward giving paralyzed humans the ability to walk again.
In fact, a man named Derek Fidyka with a severe spinal injury has already benefited from a similar process. He had been stabbed in the back with a knife in 2010, resulting in paralysis. In a brave and innovative operation, doctors successfully transplanted stem cells from his nose into his spine, giving Derek to walk again, albeit with a walking frame. Derek stated after his miraculous recovery, “When you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s like you were born again…[it is] more impressive than man walking on the moon”. Derek’s experience and words give hope to millions around the world with paralysis from spinal injuries.
Jessica Yatvitskiy ’21