Paralyzed Atlanta Patient Gets Stem Cells Injected Into Spine

Sunday, October 17, 2010
Peter Sands

A recent spine cord injury patient became the first person to be treated with embryonic stem cells. The patient received Geron Corp. GRNOPC1 stem cells that were harvested from embryos left over following in vitro fertilization. The cells were donated by the parents. The study received FDA approval in 2009.
The study leader was Richard Fessler, MD, surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital PhD, and professor of neurological surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He said that the clinical trial was a first step toward a cure for paralysis down the line. Fessler cautioned that it might take ten to twenty-five years to reach a cure.
The first stage of the study will involve 10 patients with spinal cord injuries who cannot move or feel their lower bodies. They will receive treatment seven to fourteen days after they were injured. Physical therapy provides only limited benefits for these patients.
It's hoped the GRNOPC1 cells will have the ability to restore spinal function by replacing lost myelin and giving off chemical signals to promote new nerve growth. The patient receives an injection of cells directly into the site of the spinal injury.
The Atlanta patient, and nine other will get only small doses of the cells. If the treatment is not harmful, the next step will be to use larger doses of the stem cells.
One of the key questions researcher want to discover is whether the stem cells will promote tumors growth, whether the cells will be accepted, and whether there will be any unintended consequences such as nerve pain, for instance.
In animals studies, the test animals regained the ability to walk after treatment with these cells. The animals did not in fact develop tumors, reject the cells, or have any nerve pain.
It is not known whether humans will respond as well as the animals did. Fessler mentioned that this is not the first time he's researched the use of embryonic tissues to heal spinal injuries. In the late 1990s, Fessler and colleagues used fetal spinal tissue to treat paralysis. That treatment had little effect in general, but certain, individual patients showed substantial improvement.

Source:  WebMD

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