Introduction: Spinal cord injury (SCI) can lead to severe neurological dysfunction. Despite scientific and medical advances, clinically effective regenerative therapies including stem cells are lacking for SCI.
Areas covered: This paper discusses translational challenges related to the safe, effective use of stem cells for SCI, with a focus on mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), neural stem cells (NSCs), Schwann cells (SCs), olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), embryonic stem cells (ESCs), and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). We discuss approaches to enhance the efficacy of cell-based strategies by i) addressing patient heterogeneity and enhancing patient selection; ii) selecting cell type, cell source, cell developmental stage, and delivery technique; iii) enhancing graft integration and mitigating immune-mediated graft rejection; and iv) ensuring availability of cells. Additionally, we review strategies to optimize outcomes including combinatorial use of rehabilitation and discuss ways to mitigate potential risks of tumor formation associated with stem cell-based strategies.
Expert opinion: Basic science research will drive translational advances to develop stem cell-based therapies for SCI. Genetic, serological, and imaging biomarkers may enable individualization of cell-based treatments. Moreover, combinatorial strategies will be required to enhance graft survival, migration and functional integration, to enable precision-based intervention.
Keywords: Clinical trials; regenerative therapies; safety and efficacy; spinal cord injury; stem cells.