Seven months ago, 21-year-old Kris Boesen suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord after losing control of his vehicle on a wet road and slamming into a telephone pole. His parents, Rodney and Annette Boesen, were told by physicians that their son would likely emerge from the accident a paraplegic, permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
However, this grim prognosis came before Kris took part in a pioneering stem cell therapy clinical trial where doctors from the University of Southern California’s Keck Medicine Neurorestoration Center in Los Angeles, California, surgically injected specially developed stem cells into Kris’ spinal cord.
Three months after the surgery, Kris regained use of both his left and right arm. He is now able to complete many daily tasks that he was previously unable to do, such as feeding himself, texting friend’s on his cellphone, writing, operating a motorized wheelchair, and giving hugs to his mother and father.
The innovative stem cell therapy that significantly improved Kris’ quality of life involves the conversion of embryonic stem cells into a specific type of brain and spinal cord cell called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), which are responsible for maintaining healthy nerve cell function.
According to Charles Liu, MD, PhD, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, “Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but generally does very little to restore motor or sensory function.
With this study, we are testing a procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands.”
While the subject of stem cell therapy is still hotly debated, many doctors and scientists feel a stem cell therapy clinical trial like the one Kris participated in shed new light on the quantifiable benefits of stem cell research.
The recent advancements of neurorestoration and regenerative medicine as they pertain to stem cell therapy seemingly add to these benefits, as they have already shown potential for restoring neurological function in several patients with severe spinal cord injuries.
In addition to University of Southern California’s Keck Medicine Neurorestoration Center, other institutions that are currently participating in an emerging stem cell therapy clinical trial include:
• Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
• Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
• Shepherd Center, Atlanta, Georgia
• Indiana University, Indianapolis, Indiana
• Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, San Jose, California
• Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, Los Angeles, California
To qualify for one of these stem cell therapy clinical trials, patients must be between 18 and 69 years of age and must be in stable enough condition to receive an injection of OPC1 cells on the 13th or 14th day following their injury.