USC Research, Stem Cell Injections Lead to New Treatments for Spinal Cord Injuries and Stroke

Two major breakthrough studies provide hope for sufferers of spinal cord injuries and strokes. Neurobiologist Samuel Andrew Hines received a $2.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health. The five-year award will allow Hines to continue his study on how the brain learns.

The hope is that the new study will provide insight that will help people that suffered spinal cord injury and stroke recover.

Hines developed technology that helps map neural circuits in the brain by making them “glow.” The technology is being used to map how the brain interprets touch sensation. “All of our actions require a constant communication between our body and our brain to coordinate them, and the messages are encoded by electrical signals,” states Hines.

He hopes that the award money will allow him to continue to develop his technology to one day be able to understand how the signals are represented in the brain. He wants to know which network of neurons and neurons activate when learning how to feel.

His technology has been used in genetically engineered mice. The mice’s brain glows green when neurons are active. He utilizes a dark box and objects that the mice learn to differentiate between through the use of whiskers.

The mice learn how to “feel” to interpret an object causing different parts of the brain to illuminate.

Hines’ technology may be used in the future to be able to help develop medication or methods that will allow brain circuits to work again after stroke or injury. Spinal cord injuries impact 10,000 – 12,000 people every year in the United States.

Data released at the beginning of October sheds light on stem cells and spinal cord injuries.

The data, released by a biotech company, followed six patients that had severe spinal cord injuries. The patients were each injected with 10 million stem cells. According to the study, four out of the six participants increased by two full motor levels of movement.

The movement increase, at least on one side of the body, is twice the rate of normal recovery when suffering spinal cord injuries.

All of the patients in the six-patient group improved at least one motor level on one side of their body. The study found that three patients saw an improvement of two motor levels while one patient recovered three motor levels on one side of their body.

Two patients experienced two motor level increases on both sides of their body.

All patients experienced some level of improvement on both sides of their bodies. An increase of two motor levels can mean the difference between using a ventilator to breathe and regaining hand, arm and finger movement.

The increase in motor level can mean the difference between living on a machine and being able to conduct basic daily tasks.

The study also didn’t demonstrate a movement plateau which is common in spinal cord injury patients. In most cases, initial recovery is followed by a plateau. Participants in the study saw motor level improvement after the 12-month period with no sign of a plateau.


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