Reversing Paralysis: Stem Cell Therapy Aims to Repair Spinal Cords Afflicted by Transverse Myelitis

For patients with transverse myelitis, a severest form of a rare neurological illness standing or walking is impossible they remain paralyzed / immobile and experience numbness in the legs, with generally no improvement in their condition.

An innovative treatment being tested at UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute may help such patients. By injecting patients with stem cells engineered to repair the central nervous system – called progenitor cells – scientists are working to establish the first treatment that can repair spinal cords inflamed by transverse myelitis.

If successful, the clinical trial could lead to similar therapies for more common conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

“The trial has been 15 years in the making with a huge number of hurdles,” said Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, explaining the challenges of developing cells that could both find the damaged area and fix the problem.

Transverse myelitis is caused by an inflammation in the spinal cord that damages myelin, a protective coating around neurons. The damage inhibits communication between nerve fibers in the spinal cord and the rest of the body, resulting in partial or total paralysis. Most patients at least moderately recover within a few months, while a slim minority face permanent paralysis.

UT Southwestern’s clinical trial will study the safety and effectiveness of implanting these cells into the spinal cord. Ultimately, the hope is to reverse paralysis in patients

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