Science 3 min read

How this Experimental Stem Cell Treatment Helps Regenerate Nerves

Igor Samoilik / Shutterstock.com

Igor Samoilik / Shutterstock.com

Using an experimental stem cell treatment, doctors working with USC’s Neurorestoration Center and Keck Medicine have helped a paralyzed man regain the use of arms and hands.

Our Electrical Wiring

Nerves are the body’s electrical wiring. They connect our brain to our body, and our body to our environment. The nerves in our skin, for instance, sense changes in pressure and temperature. The nerves then send that information in the form of an electrical signal through the complex network of neural wiring throughout our body until those signals reach our brain. Neurons in our brain interpret the information (it’s cold), and respond via signals sent back through our nervous system to our muscles (put on a jacket).

Damaged Wires

For people with paralysis from spinal injuries, nerve damage means that our wiring and connections are damaged. As a result, signals are neither sent to or received from specific areas of the body.

Charles Liu, who heads up the research team, notes that surgery is currently the most viable treatment for patients like with spinal injuries. The surgery may help to stabilize the spine to avoid further nerve damage, but it usually does not help to restore crucial motor and sensory function that is already lost. Therefore, because paralysis is caused by neurological damage, the surgery does not actually address the condition’s root cause.

It appears, however, that the team’s experimental stem cell treatment does address the root cause of paralysis by helping to regenerate damaged nerves and connections.

The Quadriplegic who Regained of Hands and Arms

At 20 years old, a car accident made Kris Boesen a quadriplegic. He became the first patient in California to receive an experimental stem cell treatment when the USC team injected 10 million AST-OPC1 cells made from embryonic stem cells directly into Kris’s spinal column. After only three months, Kris’s motor function is showing enormous improvement. After starting to regain the use of his hands and arms, he is eating on his own and texting.

Because this treatment is still in the experimental phases and stem cell use is still highly controversial, it is still too early to tell what applications and implications this promising treatment option will have. So far, the experimental treatment has had almost miraculous results, but in an isolated study. More testing, human trials, and political debates must take place before stem cell treatments become the standard in medical regeneration.

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