A report published by the American Paraplegia Society says that seven patients, ranging in age from 18 to 32 years, who suffered severe spinal cord injuries as much as six and half years before, were treated with stem-like progenitor and ensheathing cells derived from the olfactory mucosa.
The cells were cultivated and engrafted onto lesions on the patients' spinal cord. Subsequent MRI scans showed "moderate to complete filling of the lesion sites." The report says that two patients experienced return of sensation in their bladders and one a return of limited anal control. All the patients experienced some improvement in motor abilities.
The olfactory mucosa is the region of the nasal passage where highly specialized cells detect odours. The olfactory ensheathing cells have been found to behave in much the same way as stem cells from more traditional sources such as bone marrow, but are easier to obtain.
In 2005, a small team of Australian researchers, funded partly by a grant from the Catholic Church, published a paper showing that olfactory stem cells can be induced to become heart cells, brain cells and nerve cells, without immune system rejection or formation of tumours.
The Lisbon study's authors concluded that their work showed that spinal cord injuries treated with cells derived from the patient's own body "is feasible, relatively safe, and potentially beneficial."
The olfactory mucosa as a source of stem cells is of interest to medical researchers because it is the only part of the body's nervous system capable of life-long regeneration that is readily accessible with minimal invasive techniques.
Dr. Alan Mackay-Sim, the lead researcher in the Australian study said that it is an under-examined field. "Whenever I presented a paper, the feedback I would get was that our work was 'interesting but weird'."
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