News Byte: Stem Cell Therapy for Spinal Cord Injuries

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Spinal cord injury treatment without surgery—the work of science fiction or a soon reality? Spinal cord injuries continue to be a challenging medical issue: they commonly cause disability, yet have limited viable treatments. Discovering such remedies has been one of the drivers behind the long-standing relationship between researchers at the Sapporo Medical University of Japan and the Yale School of Medicine. Building on their focus on pre-clinical work with stem cells, this collaboration has led to the implementation of a clinical trial utilizing intravenous injection of stem cells. 

In the study, patients’ stem cells were isolated from their bone marrow and grown using their serum. “It’s a completely closed system… it’s personalized medicine,” said Jeffery D. Kocsis, professor of neurology and neuroscience at Yale. Following the cells’ injection, the researchers monitored the patients and reported neurologic improvements in twelve of the thirteen patients under the ASIA Impairment Scale for sensory and motor levels. Researchers did not detect adverse effects after injection. “The studies are, I think, quite exciting and give us great hope that we can push on with this,” Kocsis said.

While these results are promising, Kocsis notes that they are only anecdotal. “The study that was done in Japan was not blinded; it was observational and the paper [described the tests] as case studies,” he said. With this, Kocsis is cautious to declare the results conclusive and is looking forward to a future, blinded study performed in New Haven for more definitive answers.

Works Cited

Bangalore, L. (2021, February 22). Yale scientists repair injured spinal cords using patients’ own stem cells. YaleNews.

Kocsis, J. (2021, March 30). Personal interview [Personal interview].

Honmou, O., Yamashita, T., Morita, T., Oshigiri, T., Hirota, R., Iyama, S., Kato, J., Sasaki, Y., Ishiai, S., Ito, Y. M., Namioka, A., Namioka, T., Nakazaki, M., Kataoka-Sasaki, Y., Onodera, R., Oka, S., Sasaki, M., Waxman, S. G., & Kocsis, J. D. (2021). Intravenous infusion of auto serum-expanded autologous mesenchymal stem cells in spinal cord injury patients: 13 case series. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 203, 106565.