Stem Cells Ease the Pain of Spinal Cord Injuries in Mice

A recent study at the University of California, San Francisco has found that neural stem cells can help alleviate the nerve pain and bladder issues caused by spinal injuries.

Patients who suffer spinal injuries often have to deal with numbness, loss of bladder control, and associated side effects of their paralysis. In part, this is due to overactive spinal cord circuits, which can cause pain and decrease quality of life.

In this particular study, a spinal injury was induced in mice, and two weeks later the stem cell treatments were tested. Instead of focusing on the site of the injury, researchers focused on areas where the spinal circuits were at their most active. These cells dispersed, and were integrated into the spinal cord. Because embryonic stem cells from humans rather than mice were used, this allowed them to see how the cells may act if the study is extended to human subjects.

By using a special paper in their cage lining, scientists were able to see where and how often the mice had urinated. After the treatment, the mice had fewer large spots, showing greater control over their bladders. They also showed signs of being in less pain, and exhibited less scratching behaviour – a chronic itch can be a side effect of spinal injuries.

Many patients with spinal injuries rely on a cocktail of drugs, from painkillers to antidepressants, as well as medicines to help them control their bladder. Unfortunately, each of these drugs comes with its own side effect, and they cannot always be relied on in the long term.

In the last few months, there have been several stories from across the world of stem cell treatments. Ajan Reginald, CEO of Celixir, compiled some of the highest profile updates in a recent blog post, and this included the story of a quadriplegic who had regained movement in his arms. While many of these stories focus on recovery from paralysis, the team at University of California, San Francisco are focused more on improving quality of life for spinal injury patients, and looking for alternatives to the usual prescription painkillers.