Imagine a world in which those paralyzed by spinal cord injuries are once again able to move. This is an exciting world that actually exists today. Neurosurgeons are starting to have some success in using stem cells to help patients regain some functionality, particularly in their arms.
Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are among the most devastating to their victims. Car crashes result in more SCIs than any other cause.
The new procedure is being conducted as a clinical trial at several locations around the country, including the Medical College of Wisconsin. There, Dr. Shekar Kurpad injected 10 million stem cells into patient Lucas Lindner’s neck in an attempt to improve Lindner’s motor function. Lindner is one of five people to have received the surgery nationwide.
In all five cases, the patients have “experienced improvement in upper extremity motor function,” including Lindner.
Lindner was rendered a quadriplegic after he lost control of his truck when trying to avoid a deer in the road. At only 22 years old, he was given some hope when he was asked to participate in the stem cell trial, called AST-OPC1.
Dr. Kurpad explained the procedure: “We make an incision in the back of the neck . . . We expose the spinal cord . . . We inject over a period of several minutes and then, in order to prevent the cells from leaking out from where they’re injected, once the injection is complete, we leave the needle in place for about 20 to 30 seconds.”
Lindner reports that he is now able to use both of his arms at full strength. He can raise his hands over his head and “can move heavy objects.” He can also move some toes with considerable effort.
Candidates for the promising treatment must be between 18 and 65 years old and must have experienced a spinal cord injury at the neck level that resulted in some level of paralysis. The surgery must be conducted within 30 days of the accident.
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