Spinal cord injuries have always been difficult to treat but doctors in China may have finally found the answer. Groundbreaking surgery was just carried out on a paralyzed man in the northern city of Tianjin, a four-hour procedure to try and remedy the effects of a traffic accident the patient figured in two months ago.
Chinese scientists have been researching regenerative stem cell therapy for over 10 years now and the result of their work is the said surgery where stem cells were implanted into the patient's spinal column. Regenerative nerve material developed by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences was used as well for the first spinal cord surgery in the world.
Tang Fengwu from the China Police Neurological Hospital explained the procedure, detailing that a first surgery was performed on the patient which resulted in a scar covering the damaged part in the man's spine. The scar tissue was cut out, revealing a gap about 2.8 centimeters in size. A tube filled with stem cells was then inserted into the gap and then sealed to end the surgery.
According to Dai Jianwu, a research fellow from CAS' Institute of Genetics and Development, spinal nerves are like cables. As such, collagenous fibers were used, designed to behave like a rail or a bridge that nerves can crawl along on as they grow. Stem cells will be producing regenerative tissues and these will help boost the nerves' capacity to regenerate in the affected area of the spine.
The Institute of Genetics and Development at the CAS started experimenting on stem cell treatments with animals around 10 years ago. Researchers worked with mice first, moving on to bigger animals like dogs as they progressed. With experiments increasingly becoming successful, this gave scientists the confidence to pursue human clinical trials for the treatment they devised.
The first surgery was a success. It's now time for the doctors and the patient's family to wait and see how the procedure would turn out for the man.
Six more spinal cord surgeries are lined up as part of the clinical trial, all potential opportunities for paralyzed individuals to start walking again.
Around the world, 250,000 to 500,000 individuals suffer from spinal cord injuries every year, with most injuries due to preventable causes like violence, falls and road accidents. But while traumatic causes account for up to 90 percent of cases, instances of non-traumatic spinal cord injury from degeneration or disease appear to be growing.