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Study indicates stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury helps patients regain some function

A clinical trial testing the effect of a stem cell therapy on patients with complete cervical cord injury is showing encouraging results, according to the company producing the new treatment.

Asterias Biotherapeutics Inc., Fremont, California, presented the results from the 10 million cell cohort in its ongoing AST-OPC1 SCiSTAR Phase 1/2a multicenter clinical study at the 55th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Spinal Cord Society in Vienna. The study was conducted on patients suffering loss of both motor function and sensation below the neck. While early in the study, with only four of the five patients having reached 90 days after dosing, all patients who received 10 million AST-OPC1 cells have shown at least one motor level of improvement (regaining some function in their arms) while two of five patients achieved two motor levels of improvement (regaining some function in their arms, hands and fingers) on at least one side of their body.

AST-OPC1 is designed to help repair the myelin that has been damaged because of an injury to the spinal cord, and deliver additional benefits to spinal cord functioning as well. By implanting AST-OPC1 cells, the hope is that the signal from the brain that travels through the nerves of the spinal column can be restored (even partially) to allow for movement and sensation in the body. To qualify for the clinical trial, enrollees must be between the age of 18 and 69, and their condition must be stable enough to receive an injection of AST-OPC1 between the 14th and 30th days following injury.

Kristopher Boesen, 21, of Bakersfield, California, was one of the volunteer patients for the study. He had suffered a traumatic injury to his cervical spine in March, when his car fishtailed on a wet road, hit a tree and slammed into a telephone pole. Doctors thought there was a good chance he would be permanently paralyzed from the neck down. Two weeks after receiving his treatment at the Keck Medical Center of the University of Southern California, Boesen began to show signs of improvement, according to USC News. Three months later, he was able to feed himself, use his cellphone, write his name and operate a motorized wheelchair.

Researchers initially thought that results of the SCiSTAR trial would take six to 12 months to see. The next phase of the study – starting this fall -- will utilize an even higher dose of AST-OPC1 (20 million cells).

Stem cell clinical trial participant Kris Boesen practices writing his name. Boesen had suffered a spinal cord injury in March that doctors said would likely leave him paralyzed. Within weeks of receiving an experimental dose of stem cells, he was regaining movement. Image courtesy of Greg Iger/Keck Medicine of USC.

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