A medicine that encourages nerve cell regeneration can help improve mobility functions of spinal cord injury patients in their acute period, including those who are completely paralyzed, a research team led by a Keio University professor said on Thursday.
Reporting to a meeting of the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine in Kobe, the team, led by Prof. Masaya Nakamura, said it hopes to establish a method to treat spinal cord injuries by combining the medicine and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
The medicine is based on a protein called hepatocyte growth factor, which can reduce inflammation, while also protecting and regenerating nerve cells.
Nakamura and his fellow researchers conducted a clinical test for 26 patients who had been administered the medicine within 72 hours of being injured in the spinal cord in the neck.
The trial was carried out from 2014 to 2018 in collaboration with domestic companies and other organizations.
Of the 26, about half showed improvements in their mobility functions. In some cases, patients whose mobility functions had been completely paralyzed showed some of their muscle strength restored. However, improvements could only be found in the lower part of their body.
Based on these results, the research team aims to put the medicine into practical use as soon as possible.
While the clinical test covered spinal cord injury patients in their acute period, Nakamura and his fellow researchers have been conducting another test for those with injuries sustained two to four weeks earlier, in which cells that are converted from iPS cells and can develop into nerve cells are transplanted into them.
“There’s a possibility that [spinal cord injury patients] can recover more if we combine the medicine, cell treatments and rehabilitation,” Nakamura said.
Prof. Yoichi Shimada of Akita University, who also heads the Japan Medical Society of Spinal Cord Lesion, said the medicine has produced “achievements that can change the history of medicine.”
“The patients showed a kind of recovery that could not be found in conventional treatments,” he said. “The method [being developed by Nakamura’s team] could be put to immediate use anywhere when necessary."