Start of stem-cell study offers hope to patients with spinal-cord injuries

CTVNews.ca Staff Published Friday, January 10, 2014 4:33PM EST Last Updated Friday, January 10, 2014 11:42PM EST

A team of doctors at the University of Calgary has, for the first time in North America, successfully performed a stem cell transplant in a spinal cord injury patient, a procedure that could offer a glimmer of hope to patients whose injuries have long been considered untreatable.

The doctors injected the neural stem cells into the spine of a 29-year-old paraplegic, who will now be monitored to determine whether implanting those cells is safe.

Later studies will look at whether it is possible to regenerate new tissue and repair the mans injury.

That is the goal, a cure, the University of Calgarys Dr. Steven Casha, who performed the procedure on Wednesday, told CTV News.

Stem cells have the potential to recreate lost tissue, he added, although that remains to be proven in humans with spinal cord injuries. The answer, he said, is a long way away.

The transplant is part of an ongoing clinical trial being conducted by StemCells Inc., which harvested the stem cells from the nervous system of a fetus. The company holds a patent on the cells.

Data from three patients in Europe who have already undergone a transplant suggests the procedure is safe.

We have not been seeing significant complications or adverse eventsand there have been a couple of patients who havemade very small gains in functionthat appear to be hopeful and that is very interesting, Dr. Michael Fehlings, head of the spinal program at Toronto Western Hospital and the lead investigator for the trial at the University of Toronto, told CTV.

Fehlings cautioned that the results are very preliminary.

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Start of stem-cell study offers hope to patients with spinal-cord injuries

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