Geron Corp. who has invested 15 years of research and over $150 million to develop the treatment, finally hopes to start human testing by year-end. The stem cell therapy known as GRNOPC1 contains cells called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Those progenitor cells turn into oligodendrocytes, a type of cell that produces myelin, a coating that allows impulses to move along nerves. When those cells are lost due to injury, paralysis can follow. If GRNOPC1 works, the progenitor cells will produce new oligodendrocytes in the injured area of the patient’s spine, potentially allowing for new movement.
The therapy will be injected into the patient’s spine 1-2 weeks after the patients suffer an injury between their third and tenth thoracic vertebrae, or roughly the middle to upper back. The company plans to enroll 8-10 patients across the U.S. Each patient will be studied for one year and monitored for a further 15 years. A successful outcome would lead to larger and longer studies of GRNOPC1. Later trials would include patients with less severe spinal injuries and damage to other parts of the spine
Doctors are euphoric. Professor Richard Fessler, MD, a neurological surgeon at Northwestern University says it may be possible to completely restore a patient’s motor functions. “It would be revolutionary. The therapy would provide a viable treatment option for thousands of patients who suffer severe spinal cord injuries each year.”
While this study may come too late for many high profile campaigners, including “Superman” and a former first lady, it has the promise of being a step in the right direction.
In the words of Nancy Reagan, “Countless people suffering from many different diseases, stand to benefit from the answers stem cell research can provide. As I’ve said before, time is short and life is precious.”
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