There is vast therapeutic potential for the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and Adult stem lines for the treatment of human paraplegia. Although, as result of the genuine excitement of the potential of this technology and hope from suffering patients there have been inaccurate reports of success widely disseminated within the media and on the internet, misconceptions and distortions of the effectiveness of undifferentiated hESC and Adult stem cells are extensive (research into Adult stem cells is still relatively nascent). Any quick news search on the treatment of Paraplegia treatments results in an abundance of “clinics” in lightly regulated countries selling cures or treatments to vulnerable people hoping to get back on the road to recovery, none of which have shown any substantiated clinical effectiveness which would differentiate them from placebo effects in humans currently.

However, there is a lot of promise for those with Paraplegia in the targeted use of derivatives of human stem cell lines (oligodendrocyte progenitor cells) that have currently been shown to be effective in mouse models by researchers at University of California, Irvine in collaboration with Geron (a San Francisco Bay area biotech company). In theory these oligodendrocyte progenitor cells could also be derived from adult stem cells from the same individual (reducing any risk of an immune response to a cell therapy). These progenitor cells essentially repair the function of neurons by allowing them to conduct electrochemical signals again (called remyelination) to and from the brain.

The leading oligodendrocyte progenitor cell therapy developed for Paraplegia by Geron, was approved for first in human clinical testing by the FDA in Jan 2009 and has shown substantial promise in animal models of Paraplegia. The Preclinical evidence as highlighted in Geron’s FDA Investigational New Drug application suggests that, numerous animal studies demonstrated “significantly improved locomotor activity and kinematic (movement) scores” after treatment. This suggests a substantial return of function of the lower extremities, including significant recovery of the animal’s ability tomove and bear weight after they are treated with GRNOPC1 (Geron’s hESC derivative treatment), assuming these finding translate into humans this would literally be a breakthrough treatment for those with Paraplegia that would help afflicted individuals regain substantial function in their limbs and at least some movement.

I was also recently asked whether these promising paraplegia treatments, if successful in human clinical testing would still be effective in those with long term paraplegia (10+ years). Based on a review of the current animal data for oligodendrocyte progenitor cells in the treatment of Paraplegia which has shown promising results in rats at multiple time points after injury (7 days through to 9 months) and linking this with the understanding that rats typically only live 2-3 years, would indicate that the remyelination and functional repair of neurons can occur even with longer term paraplegia injuries with a high rate of success. If this pans out with humans then even a 10yr+ spinal injury may be still treatable as long as the Neuron can be remylinated to conduct electrical signals. This means there is definitely still plenty of hope for those with long term Paralysis for a real scientifically effective treatment!