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Study: Stem cell injections improve motor function in patients with spinal cord injury

Rush University Medical Center is seeking patients for a new stem cell trial that has already shown promising results, according to a September RUMC news release. The hospital seeks patients ages 18 to 65 who recently experienced a complete spinal cord injury.

As part of a multicenter clinical trial, doctors at Rush became the first in Illinois to inject AST-OPC1 cells, derived from embryonic stem cells, into a recently paralyzed man, according to the release. So far, Rush has injected three patients who lost sensation and movement below their injury site, with severe paralysis of the upper and lower limbs. The cells are injected 14 to 30 days post injury, and patients are then followed by neurological exams and imaging to assess product safety.

“We may be on the verge of making a major breakthrough after decades of attempts,” Richard G. Fessler, MD, PhD, professor of neurological surgery at Rush, said in the release. “In the 20 years of my research, we have now reached a new era where we hope to demonstrate through research that a dose of very specially made human cells delivered directly to the injured site can have an impact on motor or sensory function.”

After only three months into the trial, all patients have shown at least one motor level of improvement, according to a press release from Asterias Biotherapeutics, the company that developed the cell treatment.  Two cohorts were injected with the cells. One received an injection of 2 million cells and the other received 10 million. A third cohort is planned for 2017 and will receive 20 million cells, the AB press release stated.

“The results to date in the 10 million cell cohort, while still early, demonstrate meaningful improvement in motor function, particularly in the use of a patient’s hands, fingers and arms, which is critically important for a patient’s quality of life and ability to function independently,” Steve Cartt, CEO of Asterias, stated in the AB press release. “We are quite encouraged by this first look at efficacy results and look forward to reporting six-month efficacy data as planned in January 2017.

Results of interim research were presented at the 55th annual Scientific Meeting of the International Spinal Cord Society in Vienna.

“Until now, there have been no new treatment options for the 17,000 new spinal cord injuries that happen each year,” Fessler said.

According to the RUMC press release, AST-OPC1 cells are made from embryonic stem cells by carefully converting them into oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, cells that support nerve function. Previous lab studies demonstrated improvement, according to Edward D. Wirth III, MD, PhD, who is the lead investigator for the study.

Asteria Biotherapeutics is just one of a few companies involved with clinical trials for spinal cord injuries, according to the United Spinal Association.

In the post, “Exciting Times for Spinal Cord Injury Clinical Trials,” the USA website talks about the success of transplanting Schwann cells into a patient in August of 2015; an ongoing neural stem cell trial being conducted at the University of Miami; and Neuralstem’s study which began neural stem cell surgeries back in 2014 in California.

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By | 2020-04-15T16:42:08-04:00 September 23rd, 2016|Categories: Nursing News|Tags: |6 Comments

About the Author:

Sallie Jimenez
Sallie Jimenez is content manager for healthcare for from Relias. She develops and edits content for the blog, which covers industry news and trends in the nursing profession and healthcare. She also develops content for the Digital Editions. She has more than 25 years of healthcare journalism, content marketing and editing experience.


  1. Avatar
    Ella Rollins September 30, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

    I am so happy about this news. It is so encouraging when there is some positive news in medicine that can give people a better life and a pain free life as well. I know that stem cells are incredible and this article tells me that they are incredible and that they will be more and more useful in the future.

  2. Avatar
    Ella Rollins October 10, 2016 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    That is fantastic news. You hear about fascinating things everyday in medicine, but this article really is so helpful and good in the medical news department that it makes you feel so wonderful. The reason is because this stem-cell research helps so many people walk again and feel good about themselves again as well. I hope that we can have even more success with these stem-cells.

  3. Avatar
    Ella Rollins November 7, 2016 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    I can remember when Christopher Reeve fell off a horse in Richmond, VA. area and was rushed to the UVA hospital. He was paralyzed from the neck down. As I recall, he had stem cells to help his spinal cord and he was able to move his legs and walk with some help on the walking rails. Stem cells really help so many people. I think that they will also use stem cells with Parkinson’s disease as well. That is such great news and I am so happy in regarding that.

  4. Avatar
    Ella Rollins December 7, 2016 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    I love this idea that stem cell research will help a lot of people walk and help with their spinal cord injuries. I know that stem cell research is being done for Parkinson disease. In fact, Michael J. Fox is doing some stem cell research for his Parkinson disease.

  5. Avatar
    Ella Rollins January 9, 2017 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    I can remember when Christopher Reeve had his spinal cord injury. The doctors did a stem cell research medicine on him and it helped his spinal cord so much that he could walk with help and not be paralyzed anymore. That is such an amazing thing. I love this article because it brings such good hope to so many people.

  6. Avatar
    ella rollins February 13, 2017 at 2:07 am - Reply

    This is fabulous news. I am thrilled about the outcome on this article.
    I believe that stem cells will be very helpful.

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