Written by Honor Whiteman, Medical News Today, September 8, 2016.
A 21-year-old man left paralyzed after a spinal cord injury has regained the use of his arms and hands, thanks to an experimental stem cell treatment performed by researchers from the Keck Medical Center at the University of Southern California.
In March of this year, Kristopher (Kris) Boesen, from Bakersfield, CA, was involved in a car accident, in which he suffered severe trauma to his cervical spine that left him paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe without assistance.
Doctors told Kris that he might never regain the use of his limbs; current surgical procedures for spinal cord injury focus on stabilizing the spine to prevent further damage, but they rarely improve movement and sensation.
Kris then learned of a clinical trial – led by Dr. Edward D. Wirth III, chief medical director of Asterias Biotherapeutics – looking to enroll patients with spinal cord injury.
The ongoing trial is testing a novel therapy involving injections of AST-OPC1 – an agent consisting of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) that derive from embryonic stem cells. OPCs are the myelin-forming cells of the brain and spinal cord that help nerve cells to function.
According to Asterias Biotherapeutics – the developer of AST-OPC1 – preclinical trials of the agent in models of spinal cord injury have shown it leads to “reduction of the size of the injury cavity, restoration of the protective ‘myelin’ coating on nerve cells, production of factors that stimulate nerve cell growth, and recruitment of blood vessels to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the site.”
In order to take part in the trial – named “SCiStar” – patients need to be able to breathe without the help of a ventilator. Though it normally takes 3 weeks to wean a patient off assisted breathing, with the help of a dedicated respiratory team, Kris managed it in 5 days.
After further tests, he was confirmed as being eligible to take