At the 2018 Insurance Rehab Synergy Group Annual Conference, Stephen McKenna, MD, Chief of the Rehabilitation Trauma Center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center talked about the history of stem cells and the potential from current stem cell trials.
Embryonic stem cells are extracted from fertilized human eggs that were not implanted. Often times these were extra eggs left over from fertilization treatments. There has been ethical questions around the use of embryonic stem cells which has caused issues with the funding and authorization of this research.
The value of stem cells is that, in theory, they have the ability to develop into any different type of human cell. Thus, they can be used to regenerate damaged tissue from things ranging from knee cartilage to spinal cords.
Stem cell treatment is experimental, and often patients are very enthusiastic in trying to pursue this without full knowledge. A patient should ask the following questions to any medical provider when they are considering stem cell treatment for a spinal cord injury:
- Are there safety risks associated with this treatment?
- Could my condition or health get worse after this treatment?
The answer to both these questions should be YES if the medical provider is honest and ethical. The patient needs to fully understand the risks of such treatment.
In 2009, the first facilities in the United States were authorized to try stem cell treatment for a spinal cord injury. In these procedures, stem cells were injected into the damaged spinal cord and the patients were monitored closely to see if there was any regeneration in the spinal cord. In the clinical trial, 67% of the patients gained two spinal cord levels of additional function, which is more than double what is expected normally based on years of spinal cord research.