After a spinal cord injury, the injured cord is flooded with copious amounts of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. This rush of pro-inflammatory cells has been shown to cause something called Gliosis, which is essentially the proliferation and build-up of cells that compose the spinal cord. This excessive cellular production has been shown to cause scarring and prevent regrowth of the injured nerves in the cord.
As of late, the application of stem cells for spinal cord injuries has revealed promising results. A recent study published in PLOS One examined the efficacy of stem cell transplantation for spinal cord injury, as well as the potential synergistic effects of stem cells in combination with Curcumin, a natural anti-inflammatory supplement from Turmeric.
Curcumin has been shown to decrease inflammation by inhibiting a transcription factor called NF-kB, which controls the expression of inflammatory mediators at the level of DNA. In theory, by inhibiting the amount of inflammation and preventing Gliosis, the study hoped to show that Curcumin would allow the transplanted stem cells to have a larger impact on spinal cord regeneration.
In a controlled laboratory environment, the study simulated moderate and severe spinal cord injuries in rats, and transplanted neural stem cells to the site of the injury with and without Curcumin. The stem cells alone showed improvements in the rats with moderate spinal cord injury, but did not show any improvements in recovery in the severe group. The Curcumin, by itself, was shown to induce the proliferation of neural stem cells, but also revealed improvements in recovery for the rats with severe cord injuries. The results illustrated that neural stem cells and Curcumin possess synergistic effects on recovery from severe spinal cord injury. In addition, the study shows that the uses of Curcumin may extend well beyond its known anti-inflammatory characteristics.
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