Neuroscientists have treated a quadriplegic with stem cells and for the first time, functions have been recovered only two months into the process.
The Keck Medical Centre of USC announced that a team of doctors became the first in California to inject an experimental treatment made from stem cells, AST-OPC1, into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man as part of a multi-centre clinical trial.
Kristopher (Kris) Boesen suffered a traumatic injury to his cervical spine when his car fishtailed on a wet road, hit a tree and slammed into a telephone pole.
His parents were warned that their son would be permanently paralysed from the neck down. However, they also learned that Kris could possibly qualify for a clinical study that might help.
Leading the surgical team and working in collaboration with Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and Keck Medicine of USC, Charles Liu, MD, PhD, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, injected an experimental dose of 10 million AST-OPC1 cells directly into Kris’ cervical spinal cord in early April.
Charles Liu says “Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but generally does very little to restore motor or sensory function. With this study, we are testing a procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands. Restoring that level of function could significantly improve the daily lives of patients with severe spinal injuries.”
After only two weeks, Kris began to show signs of improvement. Only three months after surgery and he was able to feed himself, use his mobile phone, write his name and hug his friends and family. The improved sensation and movement in both of his hands and arms makes it easier for Kris to take care of himself and he now envisions a more independent life.
Dr Liu says “As of 90 days post-treatment, Kris has gained significant improvement in his motor function, up to two spinal cord levels. In Kris’ case, two spinal cord levels means the difference between using your hands to brush your teeth, operate a computer or do other things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, so having this level of functional independence cannot be overstated.”
Doctors are careful not to predict Kris’ future progress.
Kris commented by saying “All I’ve wanted from the beginning was a fighting chance. But if there’s a chance for me to walk again, then heck yeah! I want to do anything possible to do that.”
Kris, who has a passion for fixing up and driving sports cars and was studying to become a life insurance broker at the time of the accident. Because the window for performing the surgery was tight, everything needed to go according to schedule in order for Kris to qualify.
The pioneering surgery is the latest example of how the emerging fields of neurorestoration and regenerative medicine may have the potential to improve the lives of thousands of patients who have suffered a severe spinal cord injury.