He was the first person with paralysis to be treated using stem cells, and he was able to move his upper body again.

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Picture yourself driving one day, your life going on as usual. Suddenly, you wake up in a hospital bed, unable to move below your neck. This is what happened to Kristopher Boesen in 2016 when he was only 21. Thanks to a stem cell treatment, he was able to get back movement in his arms and hands.

A man was given stem cells and was able to move his upper body again.

Kris Boesen’s life was forever altered when the car he was in skidded on a wet road and crashed into a tree and lamp post. On impact, he suffered a serious injury to his cervical spine which meant he was completely paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told him he might never regain movement or function below the neck.

Dr. Charles Liu from the University of Southern California Neurorestoration Center offered an experimental treatment to Kris and his family. He injected stem cells into the spinal column with the hope of improving Kris’s mobility. Previous experiments had been done, but this was the first time it was tested on a human.

There is no guarantee

Years of research and lab experiments were done to create stem cell therapy for paralysis, but there was no way to guarantee it would work. If it didn’t, the new tissue could come together and form a tumor. This could even make the person’s paralysis worse.

Kris saw this as his only opportunity to get any part of his life back, so he accepted. The doctors removed the ventilator so he could sign the forms. To do so, he held a pen in his mouth. Afterwards, the doctors began to prepare him for stem cell injections into his spine.

What is stem cell therapy and how does it work for spinal cord injuries?

The spinal cord is very important to the human body. It sends messages between the brain and the body, telling it how to move. It also gives us information about temperature, posture, pain, and other feelings. If the cord is hurt, it can’t send messages, and the more serious the injury, the more of the body is affected. In Kris’s case, the damage was to the cervical spine, which is at the base of the neck, so messages about movement couldn’t get through from the neck down.

Stem cells are found in many parts of the body and can turn into different types of cells. Doctors usually take them from the blood, bone marrow, and umbilical cord. In a lab, scientists grow and multiply the cells in specific conditions. Afterwards, they inject the cells into patients like Kris, who had them injected into his cervical spine.

You can get the treatment if you meet the qualifications.

To be a candidate for this experimental stem cell therapy, you must be between 18 and 69 years old, in stable condition, able to give verbal consent (meaning you can breathe without a ventilator), and have the procedure done within 14 to 30 days of the injury.

Here are the results.

After lots of checks, doctors gave Kris 10 million AST-OPC1 stem cells. Six weeks later, they sent him home to keep doing rehab. After only two weeks, Kris had already started getting better. After three months, he could use his arms and hands for things like…

He can feed himself, text, use his wheelchair, write, and hug his family and friends.

He not only regained some sensation in his upper body, but it shocked Kris and gave him hope for a better future.

He said, “I just wanted a chance to fight. If there’s any way I can walk again, of course I want to do it!”

What will stem cell therapy be like in the future?

Stem cell therapy is still quite new, but doctors and scientists are optimistic about its many uses. Some of the illnesses they have treated with stem cells include macular degeneration, certain cancers, HIV and Aids, diseases of the nervous system, kidney disease, heart disease, bone diseases, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

James Wells, PhD, the chief scientific officer at the Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, states that we are still a long way from being able to rid the world of hundreds of diseases with stem cells. He adds that most of the trials are only looking at whether or not the cells are safe.

Scientists are making progress faster than expected with stem cell therapy, which looks promising for treating many life-altering conditions. Thanks to stem cell treatment, Kris can now lift a barbell over his head, which has given him back a great deal of independence. With further research, people like Kris may one day be able to do even more.

Sources

  • “Experimental stem cell therapy helps paralyzed man regain use of arms and hands.” USC News. Meg Aldrich. September 9, 2016.
  • “Neural Stem Cells May Repair Damage From Aging And Injuries.” Discover Magazine. Linda Marsa. January 2, 2019.
  • “Stem Cell Therapy Helps Paralyzed Man Regain Function.” Stem Cells Transplant Institute.
  • “Paralyzed man regains use of arms and hands after experimental stem cell therapy at Keck Hospital of USC.” Keck USC. Meg Aldrich. September 7, 2016.
  • “Stem Cells and Health Advances: Where Are We Now?” WebMD. Kathleen Doheny. August 12, 2019.

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