Researchers in Japan are celebrating a step forward in treating spinal injuries. A monkey whose spinal cord was severed at the neck has partially recovered with the use of stem cells.
Stem cells made headlines some time ago, when they were used as a treatment to restore walking ability to rats with neck injuries. Yesterday, those with severe spinal cord injuries got more hopeful news. Researchers in Japan say that they have been able to help a monkey recover much of its mobility with the help of stem cells.
Scientists at Keio University in Tokyo put four different kinds of genes into human skin cells to create pluripotent stem cells. They then injected those cells into a marmoset with a paralyzing neck injury. In three weeks time, the monkey began to move its arms and legs. The healing continued until the marmoset was actually able to jump and had recovered 80 of the strength in its arms. The leader of the research team, Hideyuki Okano, is understandably pleased:
It is the world's first case in which a small-size primate recovered from a spinal injury using stem cells. After six weeks, the animal had recovered to the level where it was jumping around. It was very close to the normal level.
There are still obstacles to be hurdled before it's certain that such a therapy could work on humans. As the number of tests with positive outcomes mounts, things are looking more and more likely that extreme spinal injuries could be treatable to the point where the sufferers of those injuries recover close to their previous range of mobility.