Medical Minute 3-8: Stem Cells for Spinal Cord Injuries

By: Melissa Medalie Email
By: Melissa Medalie Email

"I was just playing beach volleyball and I ran into the ocean for a swim to cool off."

What started out as a day on the beach ended up changing 31-year-old Janne Kouri's future.

"Dove into a wave and hit a sandbar and was instantly paralyzed," said Janne Kouri.

In a U.C. Irvine lab not far away from where Janne's accident happened, researcher Hans Keirstead says he may hold the key to helping spinal cord injury patients regain movement.

"This treatment I designed for individuals within two weeks of their injury, so it's a scary thought that those individuals that will receive this trial haven't even been injured yet," said Hans Keirstead, Ph.D., Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

Keirstead took human embryonic stem cells and coaxed them into becoming spinal cord cells, then he injected the concoction into rats. The new cells traveled to the damaged spinal cord and wrapped themselves around the nerves, restoring function. In six weeks, the previously paralyzed rats walked.

Keirstead says human trials could start later this year. About 10 patients will get an injection of cells directly into their spinal cords. The hope is to see small movements with three months.

"This is going to be an incremental advance," said Keirstead.

Since this is the first trial of its kind there are still a lot of unknowns. Will the stem cells work as well in people as in animals? Will there be side effects?

"There's risks to this thing. The patient community screams, 'Please choose me, not the rat.'"

Janne's too late for this trial, but could be a candidate for Keirstead's next experiment: using stem cells to help those who've been injured years ago.

"Once they figure out a solution, we want to be in the best possible shape you can be in," said Janne Kouri.

For more information: Ivanhoe Broadcast News2745 W. Fairbanks Ave.Winter Park, FL 32789 Medalie, Supervising Producer Medical Newsmmedalie@ivanhoe.comDirect Line: (407) 691-1516Viewer Line: (407) 740-0789 ext. 579

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