Hong Kong stem-cell trial shows promise for spinal cord injuries

In what could revolutionize the treatment of spinal injury, experts claim stem cell therapy has the potential to repair the damaged nerve membranes and restore the spinal cords’ ability to transmit signals to the brain.

According to a US based scientist, trials of stem cell transplants in paralyzed patients repaired the damaged membranes and helped them regain movement.

The treatment which showed promise in regenerating the damaged nerve fibers during the second round of tests has prompted China Spinal Cord Injury Network (ChinaSCINet) for regulatory approval for a third and final phase, which should hopefully start in the autumn. ChinaSCINet is a non-profit organisation established in Hong Kong in 2005 calls itself the world’s largest clinical trial network for spinal cord therapies.

US-based doctor Wise Young, chief executive officer of ChinaSCINet stated, “This will convince the doctors of the world that they do not need to tell patients ‘you will never walk again’.”

Clinical trials
With the aim to test the safety of the procedure, the researchers conducted trails on 20 patients who were paraplegics in the Chinese city of Kunming. Umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells were injected into damaged spines of the patients to help regenerate nerves. In addition, lithium was used to promote the growth of the nerve fibres.

Apart from receiving umbilical cord blood cell transplants, they were provided intensive walking therapy. It was noted that 15 of the patients were able to walk with just a negligible amount of help seven years after complete spinal cord injury.

“It’s the first time in human history that we can see the regeneration of the spinal cord,” Dr Young said.

3rd phase of the trials on the horizon
Given the significant clinical implications, the researchers will now test each component of the combination therapy in the third phase of the trial involving 120 patients in China and another 120 across India, Norway and the United States.

Young stated, “If the phase three trial is successful, we should have achieved worldwide regulatory approval by the beginning to the middle of 2015.”

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