New Hope for Quadriplegics and Paraplegics
Automobile accidents due to a driver’s negligence are a leading cause of paralysis from the neck or back down. When the trauma is to the seven cervical vertebrae that make up the neck, the victim usually has no control over his or her body from the neckdown. A break of one of the twelve thoracic vertebrae that make up the back results invarious degrees of paralysis; the lower the break on the spinal cord, the more control the paraplegic will have over his or her body, but his or her legs will be paralyzed.
An important medical research study has just commenced in which doctors are implanting embryonic stem cells into the damaged spinal cord of a victim suffering from paralysis due to spinal cord injury. The goal is to create new cells that will replace the damaged nerve cells, allowing the brain’s messages to travel down the spinal cord to their destination and signal the body to execute its function, such as move the legs so the person can walk. In a quadriplegic, even the slightest success can prove significant. For example, if the stem cell implant allows the quadriplegic to raise even one finger, he or she will be able to operate a specially designed wheelchair and give him or her a tremendous amount of freedom and control that we all take for granted.
But make no mistake about it: The use of embryonic stem cells is not without its critics. These are mainly the right-to-life people who feel that the embryo is a potential human life and to destroy it is to kill a life. These people do not understand that hundreds of thousands of embryos are destroyed each year by fertility clinics and other facilities.Wouldn’t it be much better to use embryonic stem cells to help the infirm and paralyzedlead a normal life?
Currently, stem cells are grown in the laboratory and treated according to aspecific biochemical regimen that encourages them to develop into a certain kind of nerve cell. These cells help an injured spine in two ways: they restore the necessary myelin (the protective sheath around the neurons), and they release loads of growth factors that nurse the tissue and prevent the secondary loss of neuron. Experiments with rats have been very promising, with the rat being able to walk and even run, albeit with alimp, after injuries to the back (thoracic spine) and the cervical spine (neck).
Stem cell research is in its infancy but from what we have seen so far, the results are promising. It will probably be 10 years or more before stem cell therapy hits its peak,but we should start investigating their use now. If this procedure proves effective in humans who have been paralyzed due to the fault of another person, the cost of the stemcell therapy will be borne by the wrongdoer, along with all other damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.