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Cindy Maddera

One of the big quandaries surrounding the use of stem cells to repair spinal cord injuries revolves around getting the stem cells to integrate successfully with existing spinal tissue. That problem may now be solved by jello. Well, not the Jell-o kind of jell-o, but something very similar. Researchers have found that adding stem cells to spinal implants made of hydrogels could build a bridge in spinal cords. The hydrogels are a jelly-like polymer that consists of a latticed network of amino acids making it very porous. They resemble the soft tissue that surrounds spinal cords during development in the womb. Neurons grow through the pores and create a scaffold to support the delicate stem cells. The pores are also large enough for transmission of chemical signals.

The treatment has yet to reach human trials, but has been tested successfully in rats and pigs. Up until now, stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries has only worked for new injuries, but the hydrogels would make it possible to repair even old spinal cord injuries.