Dr. Ann Parr
MINNEAPOLIS - We've heard the prognosis for Benilde-St. Margaret hockey player Jack Jablonski. He won't likely walk again.
Every year 300 Minnesotans on average suffer spinal cord injuries. But what could the future hold when it comes to treatments for spinal cord injuries? There's research at the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Instutute that may help.
Dr. Ann Parr is a U of M neurosurgeon, professor, researcher, and part of a team focused on spinal cord injuries and stem cell research. She said, "It is a really exciting time right now in the field of spinal cord injury."
Her team is trying to develop a treatment that could someday help people like Jablonski.
She said they're creating oligodendrocyte cells in the lab. These are cells that insulate the nerves in the spinal cord and brain.
Parr said, "After a spinal cord injury there are many nerves that are actually preserved and may have the ability to function again. However they've lost their insulation so they're sort of like bare wires."
U of M researchers have created oligodendrocyte cells from mice.
"If we could replace the oligodendrocytes in the injured spinal cord that they may actually allow these nerves to function again," said Parr.
She starts not with embryonic stem cells but rather adult skin cells which she then converts to stem cells, and then from there converts them into the insulating oligodendrocyte cells.
Parr said using a patient's own cells reduces the risk of rejection that can come with using a stranger's embryonic stem cells.
She said there are also many drugs in clinical trials that could minimize cell damage immediately after a spinal cord injury. One of them, she said, is being used in trials at Hennepin County Medical Center.
While such drugs likely wouldn't help Jabs, treatments like Parr's may. She said, "There is always hope."
Doctor Parr said there are promising drug therapies that could be available within a year or two to help treat those with new spinal cord injuries. But she said it could be years before research like hers leads to an approved treatment for those already living with a spinal cord injury.
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