Unknown to many people, spinal cord injury victims today live as an underclass of cripples, debilitated by events really beyond their control.
Between 183,000 to 230,000 people in the United States, and about two million people worldwide, live with a spinal cord injury that was caused by violence or a car accident. Each year, about 11,000 new injuries occur in the US.
Violence is the second top cause of spinal cord injuries in the US, and a growing cause worldwide. Over the years, the numbers of spinal cord victims from violence has steadily risen, while motor vehicle crashes and sport-related injuries have dropped—largely because of stricter implementation of car and sports safety measures.
More than half of spinal cord injury victims struggle to live with both legs completely paralyzed (paraplegic), while almost half of these people live with total paralysis of limbs and torso (tetraplegic).
Because more than half of these injuries happen to young people between the ages 16 and 30, the severe crippling is more tragic.
Thankfully, spinal cord injury victims could be helped to walk again by dental stem cells, scientists say.
In a breakthrough study, scientists at the Nagoya University in Japan put dental pulp stem cells into rats with broken backs and discovered that the animals regained some leg movement.
The study showed that dental pulp, found in the center of the tooth, stops nerve cells from dying, regenerates severed nerves and encourages the growth of other cells supporting the spine.
The team behind the study claims the breakthrough brings hope to people with severe spinal cord injuries and proposes that tooth-derived stem cells may be an excellent and practical cellular resource for the treatment of spinal cord injuries.
The report also claims that stem cells can be extracted from adult wisdom teeth without adverse health effects. “There are few ethical concerns regarding their clinical use,” the report said.
Several advocates for spinal cord injury victims in the United Kingdom have praised the study.
“Within the context of spinal cord injuries, this is a relatively new and under-studied source of stem cells which appears to show remarkably promising results,” said Dr Mark Bacon, research director at the Surrey, United Kingdom-based charity Spinal Research.
“But even once a cure has been identified it will take considerable time before it is put into practice for every one of the 1,200 people who will be injured in the UK this year and the 40,000 people already living with spinal cord injuries,” he said.
According to him, the scientists’ results had been achieved following the immediate transplanting of the cells into the injured area—and this is not possible in patients, particularly if the cells are to be taken post-injury from the patient and purified, he warned.
“It will therefore be interesting to see how effective these cells are after delayed transplantation,” he noted.
Alex Rankin, of spinal injury charity Aspire, said: “We are excited by the prospect of a cure being found for spinal cord ¬injuries through the use of dental pulp stem cells.