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Leap in spinal regeneration claimed

AFP-JIJI

A leading researcher into severe spinal cord injuries says trials for stem cell therapy have shown groundbreaking results in giving immobile patients the ability to walk again.

After progress in a second round of tests using stem cells to regrow nerve fibers, the China Spinal Cord Injury Network (ChinaSCINet) has applied for regulatory approval in China for a third and final phase, which it hopes to start in the autumn.

“This will convince the doctors of the world that they do not need to tell patients, ‘You will never walk again,’ ” said U.S.-based physician Wise Young, the chief executive officer of ChinaSCINet.

He said that on average, 15 out of 20 patients in the Chinese city of Kunming who received umbilical cord blood cell transplants and intensive walking therapy were able to walk with minimal assistance seven years after complete spinal cord injury.

“It’s the first time in human history that we can see the regeneration of the spinal cord,” Young said.

The treatment involves injecting umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells into patients’ damaged spines to help regenerate nerves, while lithium is used to promote the growth of the nerve fibers.

Each component of the combination therapy will be tested in the third phase, which Young said would involve 120 patients in China and another 120 across India, Norway and the United States.

“If the phase three trial is successful, we should have achieved worldwide regulatory approval by the beginning to the middle of 2015,” he said.