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First Test of Stem Cell Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury

October 11, 2011

Dr. David Chen, the expert we chose for our “Spinal Cord Injury 101” interview, is on the team scientists conducting the world’s first test of human embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries.

The nationwide Phase I trial is not aimed at curing patients, but only at establishing that stem cells are safe to use. The study will involve 10 patients at seven sites nationwide, including the Shepherd Center in Atlanta and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

To qualify, patients must have a functionally “complete” spinal cord injury with a neurologic level of T-3 to T-10. The stem-cell injections must be scheduled for 7-14 days after injury. If the cells are administered earlier, they could be damaged by inflammation from the injury. If the doctors wait too long, there might be too much scar tissue for the cells to find room to grow.

Geron Corporation, the company sponsoring the trial, has made a video which illustrates how stem cells work, and shows the results the company has achieved in re-growing spinal cord nerves in rats. (Geron is a private company; no federal funds are involved in their work.)

Dr. Chen, Medical Director of the Spinal Cord Injury program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, will be monitoring patients in the clinical trial and tracking their progress as they undergo therapy.

Here are Dr. Chen’s answer to a couple of basic questions about stem cells:

How would stem-cell therapies work in the treatment of spinal cord injuries?

When can we expect stem-cell treatments to become available for spinal cord injuries?

We’re just at the beginning of stem cell research in the U.S. We’d like to know what aspects of it most interest you, so we can keep you up to date.  Please leave a reply below.

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