NEW TREATMENTS
December 18, 2010

Paralyzed Monkey Jumps Again

Researchers say that implanting stem cells allowed a paralyzed monkey to walk – and jump – again. Are humans next?

According to a new study from Japan, a monkey who had sustained a spinal cord injury regained partial mobility after undergoing a stem cell implant. Whether a similar technique may ultimately be used in humans is, of course, the next big question. Spinal cord injuries are a frequent cause of paralysis in humans.

Whether human stem cells could be created quickly enough to treat a human after injury will need to be determined.

The researchers developed induced pluripotent (iPS) cells by implanting certain genes into human skin. (The term "pluripotent" means that the stem cells can develop into any type of cell in the body.) Once the stem cells had developed, the team injected them into a paralyzed marmoset nine days after its spinal injury had occurred, which is apparently the most effective timeframe to do so. The idea was the stem cells would develop into nerve tissue and help repair the animal’s own damaged nerves.

Within a few weeks of the implant, the monkey began moving its limbs. After six weeks, it was able to jump to heights similar to its pre-injury ability. Study author Hideyuki Okano told the American Free Press that the marmoset’s "gripping strength on the forefeet also recovered to up to 80 percent."

While the study is exciting in its strides towards treating paraplegia, the question of how the results apply to humans remains. Whether human stem cells could be created quickly enough to treat a human after injury will need to be determined. Still, as the author points out, "[i]t is the world's first case in which a small-size primate recovered from a spinal injury using stem cells." While often under scrutiny and hot debates, stem cell research clearly offers much potential in the fight against some of the most devastating diseases.

The study was presented at the Molecular Biology Society of Japan on December 7, 2010.

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