The FDA has approved a clinical trial for the purpose of evaluating the transplanting of human Schwann cells into patients with paralysis. This is the first trial of its kind in the world.

Schwann cells are located in the peripheral nervous system, and have the job of sending electrical signals to parts of the body. Researchers believe that these cells might be the solution to curing spinal cord injuries in the future.

The first trial, considered a safety trial, includes eight patients with either acute spinal-cord damage or who are within the first month of paralysis. They will receive injections of their own Schwann cells, and scientists will monitor the patients for side effects.

A Schwann cell repairs peripheral nerves via its innate ability to change itself to suit the need at hand. Its most important function for the trial is to myelinate around a nerve, restoring function for that nerve.

Scientists have already proven the therapy in lab animals, wherein the animals’ own Schwann cells were transplanted to the site of the injury. Schwann cells reinsulated the damaged nerve cells. Around 70 percent of movement and function was restored to the animals, which had been fully paralyzed. It was found that the cells survived the transplantation, growing and restoring the nerve cells.

The research is in its early stages, but holds a lot of promise for those who thought they might never walk again. Individuals who found themselves paralyzed due to circumstances beyond their control, such as a car accident, just may be able to resume their life as it was before tragedy struck.

Source: ABC News, “Spinal-Cord Injury Therapy OK’d by FDA Could Lead to Cures,” Susan Donaldson James, July 31, 2012.

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