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Monday 24th October 2016

Spinal patients to get stem cells

23rd January 2009

Ten patients completely paralysed by recent spinal cord injuries will receive stem cells in the first ever FDA-approved study in human patients.


All of the patients enrolled in the study have suffered severe injuries, completely cutting off the spinal cord from the brain.

In such injuries, the myelin sheath protecting nerve cells in the spinal cord is lost irrevocably.

Researchers hope that stem cells will permit the restoration of myelin as well as stimulating the growth of new nerve cells.

In order to make sure that the treatment is safe, the researchers will first use only small doses of the cells.

If the safety of the stem cells is proven, they will be used to attempt to treat spinal cord injuries in the 10 patients.

Thomas Okarma said that this marks the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics, and that his team hopes to achieve the restoration, perhaps permanently, of organ function by the injection of replacement cells, by harnessing the biology of normal human development.

Okarma said that stem cells may also help patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, stroke, and other diseases of the central nervous system.

The cells are grown in the labratory using embryonic stem cells, and developed into "precursor" cells for the cells composing the myelin sheaths.

Robert McKeon of Emory University has his doubts about the new study.

Though the stem cells have succeeded in healing the spinal injuries in animal studies, he said that human injuries are much more complex than animal injuries.

He said that the researchers are asking these cells to do something he doesn't believe they are capable of doing.

He said that the hype often heard is that the cells will reconstitute the spinal cord and provide new tissues to promote recovery, to grow nerve cells, to make synapses, and to modulate the inflammatory damage from the injury.

US president Obama is expected to lift or ease restrictions on federal money for stem-cell research.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she is interested in pressing legislation on stem cells within the next three months.

Extracting stem cells from four- or five-day-old embryos kills the embryos, and due to the anti-abortion climate of the Bush administration, stem cell researchers faced restrictions regarding human testing.


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