Stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury offers improved chance of independent life for patients


Kris Boesen, CIRM spinal cord injury clinical trial patient works to strengthen his upper body. (Photo/Greg Iger)

A spinal cord injury is devastating, changing a person’s life in a heartbeat. In the past there was little that doctors could do other than offer pain relief and physical therapy to try and regain as much muscle function as possible. That’s why the latest results from the CIRM-supported Asterias Biotherapeutics spinal cord injury trial are so encouraging.

Asterias is transplanting what they call AST-OPC1 cells into patients who have suffered injuries that left them paralyzed from the neck down.  AST-OPC1 are oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, which develop into cells that support and protect nerve cells in the central nervous system, the area damaged in spinal cord injury. It’s hoped the treatment will restore connections at the injury site, allowing patients to regain some movement and feeling.

The latest results seem to suggest they are doing just that.

In a news release, Asterias reports that of the 25 patients treated in this clinical trial none have experienced serious side effects. They also reported that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests show that more than 95 percent of the patients have shown evidence of what’s called “tissue matrix” at the injury site. This is encouraging because it suggests the implanted cells are engrafting and helping prevent a cavitation, a serious process that often occurs in spinal cord injuries and can lead to permanent loss of muscle and sensory function plus chronic pain.

The study also shows that after six months:

  • 100 percent of the patients in Group 5 (who received 20 million cells) have recovered at least one motor level (for example increased ability to use their arms) on at least one side
  • Two patients in Group 5 recovered one motor level on both sides
  • Altogether four of the 25 patients have recovered two or more motor levels on at least one side.

Not surprisingly Ed Wirth, the Chief Medical Officer at Asterias, was pleased with the results:

“The results from the study remain encouraging as the six-month follow-up data continued to demonstrate a positive safety profile and show that the AST-OPC1 cells are successfully engrafting in patients.”

While none of the patients are able to walk, just regaining some use of their arms or hands can have a hugely important impact on their quality of life and their ability to lead an independent life. And, because lifetime costs of taking care of someone who is paralyzed from the neck or chest down can run as high as $5 million, anything that increases a patient’s independence can have a big impact on those costs.

The impact of this research is helping change the lives of the patients who received it. One of those patients is Jake Javier. We have blogged about Jake several times over the last two years and recently showed this video about his first year at Cal Poly and how Jake is turning what could have been a life-ending event into a life-affirming one.


15 thoughts on “Stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury offers improved chance of independent life for patients

  1. i have been battling a spinal injury for 11 years now getting worse sll the time i excerse all the time as of late its been difficult ive had 5 operations in syracause ny willing to try anything new with stem cell tu kevin j norton

    • Dear Mr. Norton, thanks for the comment and I’m so sorry to hear about your injury. I can only imagine how painful and challenging that must be. While we are funding research into spinal cord injury nothing we are doing at the moment would be of any benefit to you I’m afraid. All our clinical trial projects are targeting recent complete spinal cord injuries. You might find something of help on the website, that’s a list of all the clinical trials registered with the National Institutes of Health. If you do find a clinical trial that looks promising be sure to check out this page on the CIRM website before making any decision. It has information on questions you should ask before joining any trial.

      I hope that helps.

  2. My brother was a bright Orthopedic resident when he met with an accident 4 months back with a diagnosis of Spinal Cord Rupture – causing paraplegia. A bright future of being an Orthopedic Surgeon has been reduced to a depressed man who despises life. The above looks very promising. Can my brother be a candidate for this trial?

    • Dear Richa, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. That must be incredibly challenging for him. The clinical trial we are funding has now completed enrollment but we hope the company running it will be able to apply to the FDA for permission to start a new one soon. We have no idea if that will be appropriate for your brother as this first trial was for patients with recent injuries, in the last 40 days or so. But if and when the new trial is announced we will certainly cover that news on our blog.

  3. Pingback: Using 3D printer to develop treatment for spinal cord injury | The Stem Cellar

  4. I have a friend having spinal cord injury, he is a poor man and having no support to him. if there is any supportive treatment or diagnosis system that he may stand in need for his health. please inform

    • Dear Ehsan, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. I can only imagine how challenging that must be for him to have a spinal cord injury and little money. Unfortunately we are unable to help. We are a state agency and while we do fund research we don’t have any money to help support patients. I’m sorry I cannot be of more help.

  5. I am 31 yr old man almost 5 yrs ago I was disabled by slip n slide kickball at nieces birthday party is there any trials or treatments that can help me please let me know

      • Hi Matt, unfortunately I don’t know of any clinical trials currently underway for this. I know there is a lot of research taking place in this area but nothing so far has reached the clinical stage where it’s being tested in people.

  6. I have an 18 year old grandson who was injured 40 days ago in a pool accident. He broke C5 vertebrae and had 4 and 5 removed. We are looking for possible clinical trials presently or functioning in the very near future. He has a very little feeling in his left thumb and some movement in his right arm. Super athletic, strong and motivated. If you know of anything we would appreciate it. Raymond

    • Hi Raymond, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandson’s injury. I can only imagine how challenging that must be for him and the whole family. I have checked on the website – that’s a list of trials registered with the National Institutes of Health – – but did not find any that would be appropriate for your grandson. I’m so sorry I can’t be of more help but wish you and your family all the best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.