What is the spinal cord? The spinal cord can be defined as a complex organisation of nerve cells, which are responsible for movement and sensation. The spinal cord is a very important part of the human nervous system as it carries electrical information (signals) to and from the brain. It allows you to feel what is happening to your body and to move your body parts, including your hands and legs. Damage to the spinal cord or spinal cord injuries causes loss of feeling and movement to the limbs. Severe injuries also cause both urine and stool incontinence.
Spinal cord injuries
Dr Theophilus Wangata, the lead physician at Precise Healthcare explains the nature of spinal cord injuries and how they are treated:
The majority of spinal cord injuries result from road accidents, falls from a heights, which lead to fractures of the spine, infections or cancers that eat up the bony structure of the spine.
Other causes of spinal cord injuries that are not too common may inclued; gun shots wounds, arrows or knife stabs.
It is important to carry out medical examinations to reveal the level of injury. The patient may suffer complete or partial paralysis and loss of sensation of the affected regions depending on the level and severity of injury.
Treating spinal cord injuries
The treatment of spinal injuries can be conservative or involve surgery to correct the fracture to relieve any pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. The next step is rehabilitative management, which is multi-disciplinary and includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychological counselling.
Stem cell therapy
This is one of the most promising branches of Regenerative Medicine (branch of medicine, which develops methods to re-grow, repair or replace damaged or diseased cells, organs or tissues), which has proven to have the potential of radically improving the quality of life in patients with incurable neurological conditions such as spinal cord injury, head injury, cerebral palsy, autism, dementia amongst others.
Stem cells are the body’s raw materials. They have the ability to multiply and have the potential to convert into different parts of the body such as nerves, muscle, bones, skin and all the various different body organs. Therefore, they can repair, replace and regenerate damaged body parts. There are different types of stem cells: Embryonic stem cell, Umbilical cord stem cells and Bone marrow stem cells, which is the most important type as it is rich with stem cells.
Stem cell therapy from bone marrow is a minimally invasive procedure, which involves two simple injections. The first injection is to remove bone marrow while the second is to inject the stem cells into the fluid in the back called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is done under local anaesthesia and hence a generally painless procedure.
After the procedure, rehabilitative management is instituted for the spinal cord injury patient and is an extremely important part of long-term management in what is known as neuro-regenerative rehabilitative management. It takes up to three months to notice the most significant changes and six months to consolidate the same. Follow-ups are done every six months or so.
Stem cell therapy may not confer 100 percent recovery of full functionality in all patients but many have positive changes that improve their lives. The success rate of treating spinal cord injuries is higher when they are treated immediately. As time lapses, the recovery rate also dwindles. Research is still ongoing on further improvements of stem cell therapy whereas it is still new in many parts of the world.