K.V. Prasad

It will explore application for other neurological diseases

COIMBATORE: The Kovai Medical Center and Hospital has started stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries.

Its Department of Regenerative Medicine for Neurological Diseases has injected stem cells into the injured area of the spinal cord of four patients. This will help to re-establish neurological links in the affected area and help to restore the functions of the limb and other organs that have been affected, according to J.K.B.C. Parthiban, consultant neurosurgeon and head of the new wing.

Stem cells can be used to revive and improve the functions of various organs by generating new cells, he says. (The government hospital attached to the Madras Medical College used stem cells to improve the functioning of a person’s heart recently.)

Kovai Medical Center, which has joined hands with Nichi-in Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Japan, has started with the treatment of spinal cord injuries, but will study the possibility of using it to treat other neurological diseases.

Dr. Parthiban says stem cells are taken from the patients’ bone marrow and injected into the spinal cord that has suffered a serious injury because of a spinal fracture. The broken spinal bone pierces the cord and impairs the neurological functions. Also called neurological deficit, this assumes the form of quadriplegia (loss of function of and sensation in both hands and legs when the cord is damaged in the neck zone) or paraplegia (loss of function and sensation below the hips when the injury is in the back).

A surgery is done immediately after the injury to release the cord from the pressure of fracture. Drugs are given to prevent further degradation of the cord. The medicines will also prevent secondary problems such as the breaking of cells because of the weakening of the cell membranes. This secondary injury can cause a greater neurological deficit. But, the primary injury will have done the damage. The affected portion of the cord will atrophy and lose its functions because of the neurological gaps in this area. Stem cells injected into the injured spot can convert into neural cells and re-establish the neurological link.

The treatment will take 45 days to a year to yield result. But even one grade of improvement — such as the movement of even one hand or that of the bowel — is significant, the surgeon says.

Dr. Parthiban says his wing will take the bone marrow of the patient and send it to the institute’s unit in Chennai. The stem cells will be isolated there and returned to the hospital. He says the use of embryonic cells and those of aborted foetus are banned.

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