Last week, the FDA gave biotech firm Geron the green light to proceed with clinical trials of an embryonic stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries. But while we wait on promising embryonic stem cell research to clear political and regulatory hurdles, adult stem cell research is trucking right along. Yesterday it was announced that Iraq War veteran and Marine Matt Cole, paralyzed from the chest down since a 2005 insurgent attack in Iraq, has enrolled as the first patient in the first FDA clinical trial of adult stem cells used to treat spinal cord injuries.
The procedure involves removing a couple of thousand adult stem cells from Cole’s bone marrow, multiplying them in the lab and injecting them into his spinal cord. That should happen later this month. Nine other patients have also been enrolled for this phase of the trial, which is being undertaken by TCA Cellular Therapy in Covington, La.
Adult stem cell treatments have enjoyed success in treating leukemia, lymphoma, various blood diseases, and cardiovascular ailments (among other things), and researchers expect experimental new spinal cord treatments to repair damaged neurons to the point that at minimum patients regain some motor and sensory function that was lacking before. But the impact of the treatment could be much greater, if not in Cole’s case then for future recipients for the treatment.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to find a means to restore nervous function to the 311,000 people living with a spinal cord injury in the U.S. alone. Many of those people suffer from injuries or ailments for which treatment options aren’t just limited — they are virtually non-existent.