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How Cells from the Nose may Help People with Spinal Injuries

Following a three year long clinical trial some patients with spinal cord injuries have seen an improvement in their movement and function after being treated with transplanted cells from their nasal cavity. The trial used cells from the patients’ olfactory mucosa to build a ‘bridge’ which spanned the gap between the damaged areas of the spinal cord. Improvement in motor function, bladder function and daily life activities were noted, leading the researchers to claim that the use of olfactory mucosa transplants was both safe and very promising for the future.

Able to bridge the ends of severed spinal cords

The trial involved 12 patients with complete spinal cord injury who were given an OLP transplant and their progress followed for three years. After studying post-operative images, the researchers were able to see that the transplants had bridged the ends of the severed spinal cord, possibly helping to establish optimal conditions for early motor or sensory recovery. Most of the people involved in the trial showed some improvements within 12 – 24 months following the surgery, but while their functional recovery increased slowly, it did tend to plateau after 2 years.

Improvements to sensory function were most apparent

The researchers, led by Dr Hua-Zi-Xu at the Department of Spinal Surgery at Wenzhou Medical University, noted that there was a greater improvement in sensory function rather than motor function, particularly in relation to the bladder. However, the researchers did stress that factors such as age, severity of the injury and the quality of the transplants all played a part in the optimal outcome, but they believed that significant axon regeneration could be achieved by combining this kind of transplant with other pharmacological agents.

OLP transplants could play a large part in future treatment for spinal injuries

The primary benefit of using OLP transplants is that the cells are easy to isolate and it avoids any potential ethical issues. The cells, once transplanted, have similar properties to those of Schwann cells and are able to survive in the peripheral nervous system. Furthermore, unlike previous similar studies, this study was randomised, controlled and double blind meaning that the results were more credible.

However, the researchers agree that while the study does show that OLP transplants can improve motor and sensory skills, further research is necessary to optimize these improvements.

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