Br Med Bull. 2011 May 17.

Will stem cell therapies be safe and effective for treating spinal cord injuries?

Thomas KE, Moon LD.
SourceWolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, King's College London, 16-18 Newcomen Street, London SE1 1UL, UK.

Introduction A large number of different cells including embryonic and adult stem cells have been transplanted into animal models of spinal cord injury, and in many cases these procedures have resulted in modest sensorimotor benefits. In October 2010 the world's first clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells began, using stem cells converted into oligodendrocyte precursor cells. Sources of data In this review we examine some of the publically available preclinical evidence that some of these cell types improve outcome in animal models of spinal cord injury. Much evidence is not available for public scrutiny, however, being private commercial property of various stem cell companies. Areas of agreement Transplantation of many different types of stem and progenitor cell enhances spontaneous recovery of function when transplanted acutely after spinal cord injury in animal models. Areas of disagreement The common mechanism(s) whereby the generic procedure of cellular transplantation enhances recovery of function are not well understood, although a range of possibilities are usually cited (including preservation of tissue, remyelination, axon sprouting, glial cell replacement). Only in exceptional cases has it been shown that functional recovery depends causally on the survival and differentiation of the transplanted cells. There is no agreement about the optimal cell type for transplantation: candidate stem cells have not yet been compared with each other or with other cell types (e.g. autologous Schwann cells) in a single study. Areas timely for developing research Transplantation of cells into animals with a long lifespan is important to determine whether or not tumours will eventually form. It will also be important to determine whether long-term survival of cells is required for functional recovery, and if so, how many are optimal.