Why does spinal cord regeneration therapy that works for animals fail to work for humans?

Spine Vertebrae Model Examined by Doctor

Spinal cord injury patients and their families may have heard of research success in regenerating neural damage. However, most of this success has come from animal studies, and have not translated well in human studies.

A recent review of therapies for spinal cord injury discussed the reasons for this difference:

  • In humans, the spinal cord injury extends over several sections of the spine. In animal studies, an injury is artificially created and often limited to one section.
  • Animal studies usually use thoracic injury, but cervical injury is the most common injury in humans (lumbar is the second most common). The cervical and lumbar regions supply nerve fibers to arm and leg muscles.
  • Animal studies focus on therapies for acute injuries, but these therapies do not translate when applied to chronic spinal cord injuries in humans.

Although animal studies provide an excellent model for understanding the mechanics of neural regeneration, these challenges need to be addressed before regeneration therapy can be useful to human patients.

Dietz V. Recent advances in spinal cord neurology. Journal of Neurology. (August 2010).