Spinal cord injuries have better outcomes when treated with stem cell transplants and regenerative therapy together

Spinal cord injuries have better outcomes when treated with stem cell transplants
By Pdevesap – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45324227

Spinal cord injuries have better outcomes when treated with stem cell transplants and regenerative therapy together

Recently, researchers have made significant progress in utilizing animal models to implant neural stem cells or grafts to enhance tissue regeneration in spinal cord injuries (SCI). Various studies have demonstrated that extensive physical rehabilitation can enhance function after SCI by encouraging expanded or alternative functions for surviving cells and neural networks.

In a new publication published in the journal JCI Insight on August 22, 2022, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine investigate the hypothesis that the addition of pro-regenerative therapies like stem cell grafting to rehabilitation improves functional outcomes.

Scientists used a rat model to study how a cervical lesion affected the animal’s ability to grasp with its upper limbs. Animals were split into four groups: those that only underwent the lesion, those that underwent the lesion and a subsequent grafting of neural stem cells designed to grow and connect to existing nerves, those that underwent rehabilitation only, and those that underwent both stem cell therapy and rehabilitation.

Some of the animals began their rehabilitation therapy one month after their injuries occurred, which is roughly when people with SCI are admitted to rehabilitation facilities. Animals were rewarded with food pellets every day as part of their rehabilitation, which involved a series of regular tasks designed to improve their gripping abilities.

Researchers showed that rehabilitation accelerated the recovery of forelimb grasping ability when applied one month after damage, and that grafting helped injured corticospinal axons regenerate at the lesion location.

First author Paul Lu, PhD, associate adjunct professor of neuroscience at UC San San Diego School of Medicine and research health science specialist at the Veterans Administration San Diego Healthcare System commented that these new findings demonstrate that rehabilitation plays a crucial role in enhancing functional recovery when coupled with a pro-regenerative treatment, such as a neural stem cell transplant.

When compared to the current standard of care for persons with SCI, the researchers identified a remarkably powerful advantage of intense physical therapy when administered as a daily routine.

UC San Diego School of Medicine professor of neurosciences and head of the Translational Neuroscience Institute Mark H. Tuszynski, MD, PhD, and colleagues have been working for a long time to solve the complicated issues of treating SCIs and restoring function.

Example: in 2020, researchers reported on the beneficial effects of neural stem cell transplants in rats, while in 2019 they presented 3D-printed implantable scaffolding that would encourage nerve cell proliferation.

The medical community has yet to fully address the issue of spinal cord injury. Approximately 18,000 people in the United States sustain SCIs annually, and another 294,000 people are living with a SCI, most often resulting in permanent paralysis or decreased physical function such as loss of bladder control or difficulties in breathing.

After spinal cord injury, there is a significant unmet need to better regenerative therapy.  In the next two years, researchers plan to conduct human clinical trials using the findings from this study in the hopes that they would pave the way for a new treatment method including the combination of neural stem cell grafts and rehabilitation.


University of California – San Diego. (2022, October 28). Stem cell grafts and rehabilitation combined boost spinal cord injury results. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221028121015.htm

Paul Lu, Camila M. Freria, Lori Graham, Amanda N. Tran, Ashley Villarta, Dena Yassin, J. Russell Huie, Adam R. Ferguson, Mark H. Tuszynski. Rehabilitation combined with neural progenitor cell grafts enables functional recovery in chronic spinal cord injury. JCI Insight, 2022; 7 (16) DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.158000

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