Hans Keirstead, a researcher at University of California, Irvine, is set to begin a small human trial of his embryonic stem cell treatment on patients with spinal cord injuries. The treatment is designed for patients within 14 days of suffering spinal cord injuries. In rat trials, paralyzed rats were injected with a stem cell formula. The paralyzed rats were able to walk six weeks later.
Some critics of the race toward human trials of stem cell techniques have said that the treatment is being pushed through regulatory bodies and onto the public too quickly. Keirstead asserted that paralyzed and spinal cord injured community members don’t want to wait. He said, “The patient community screams, ‘Please develop treatments. We want them now. Choose me, not the rat,’” a WNDU 16 article reported.
Although the first human trial will only be available to 10 people with recent spinal injuries, Keirstead has another experiment in the works. The next step is to develop techniques to repair spinal cord cells in patients who were injured months or years ago. The article added that more than half of the new treatments in the second phase of testing will never make it to the market, but that doesn’t slow down Keirstead’s work.
Commenting on the uniqueness of his work, Keirstead said, “My lab was the first lab in the world to take stem cells that can make any cell in the body and trick them to become one thing only: a high purity population of one particular spinal cord cell type,” the article continued.
There is still no guarantee that the stem cell technique is completely safe or that it will make a person stand up out of a wheelchair and walk again. Keirstead expects incremental changes in the way spinal cord injuries are treated. For a paralyzed person, every return of movement or feeling to parts of their body is a huge leap and a blessing, since up to now, very little can be done to reverse even a fraction of their condition.