Paralyzed Man Regains Use of Arms and Hands After Experimental Stem Cell Therapy

Injected cells preserve neve impulses

Doctors at the University of Southern California’s Keck Medical Center have become the first in California to inject an experimental treatment made from stem cells—AST-OPC1—into the damaged spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man as part of a multicenter clinical trial.

Two weeks after surgery, the patient began to show signs of improvement. Three months later, he is able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair, and hug his friends and family.

The patient––Kristopher Boesen of Bakersfield––injured 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 there was a good chance their son would be permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

AST-OPC1 cells are made from embryonic stem cells by carefully converting them into oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), which are cells in the brain and spinal cord that support the healthy functioning of nerve cells. In laboratory studies, AST-OPC1 cells were shown to produce neurotrophic factors, to stimulate vascularization, and to induce the remyelination of denuded axons. All are key factors in the survival, regrowth, and conduction of nerve impulses through axons at an injury site.

The medical team injected an experimental dose of 10 million AST-OPC1 cells directly into Boesen’s cervical spinal cord in early April. Nearly six weeks later, he was discharged and returned to Bakersfield to continue his rehabilitation. Doctors reviewed Boesen’s progress at seven days, 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days post-injection, and he is scheduled for further assessments after 180 days, 270 days, and one year.

“Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but generally does very little to restore motor or sensory function,” explained Charles Liu, MD, PhD, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. “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.”

To qualify for the ongoing study, enrollees must be between the ages of 18 and 69, and they must be stable enough to receive an injection of AST-OPC1 cells between the 14th and 30th days after injury.

Source: PR Newswire; September 7, 2016.