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Stem cells repair spinal cord damage

30th March 2006

People suffering with spinal cord damage could be helped with stem cells, according to Canadian scientists.

The claims, made by researchers from the Toronto Western Research Institute in the Journal of Neuroscience, imply that implanting stem cells into the brain could enable paralysed individuals to walk again.

In tests on rats, the scientists found that neural precursor cells injected in to the brain travelled to the damaged spinal cord where they produced myelin, a layer that surrounds nerve fibres, allowing signals from the spinal cord to be sent to the brain.

The treatment could be beneficial to around the half of patients who, having suffered a spinal injury, have nerve fibres intact but no myelin, said Dr Michael Fehlings, a neurosurgeon from the institute's Krembil Neuroscience Center, to the Reuters news agency.

"While the rats did not become normal, they could walk with better coordination of joints and ability to support their weight," he added.

However, treatment on rats that occurred eight weeks after injury was found to have no effect, indicating that if the results have a bearing on the human condition, the implanting of stem cells would have to be performed shortly after the injury occurred.