Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stem cell therapy outsourced

Deepak Singh, a 34-year-old businessman in Mumbai, India was shot, injuring his spinal cord and causing him to lose all sensation and movement in his lower body. Three years later, he saw a doctor who claimed to cure spinal cord injured patients with stem cell therapy. Singh proceeded with the treatment, but had no improvement. He later realized that he had been scammed and had been injected with an unidentified fluid labeled stem cells. For seven years he remained paralytic and bedridden. In late 2009, he opted to try stem cell therapy again (from a different doctor), having embryonic stem cells injected into his spinal cord. This time, he had improvement, which is quite astonishing given the seven years since his injury.

In 2010, the FDA authorized the Geron Corporation to begin embryonic stem cell trials for use on patients with spinal cord injuries. The study is centering on acute injuries, despite trials at different centers internationally that have shown positive results in chronic spinal cord injuries. Seven centers around the country will participate in the trial, including the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Many scientists welcomed this milestone.

Prior to this, the FDA had not approved human trials with embryonic stem cells. The FDA has finally recognized the evidence supporting that stem cells hold promise and are safe enough to test in humans.

Dr. Dennis Lox, a Tampa Bay area physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist who also specializes in regenerative medicine, notes that he tried to get patients enrolled in the Shepherd study, but due to the long duration of the patients’ injuries, he was unsuccessful.

Dr. Lox has utilized stem cells and regenerative medicine techniques such as platelet-rich plasma to help patients with acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries, using their own (autologous) stem cells for transplantation.

Dr. Lox heralds the initiation of U.S. stem cell trials in humans as the beginning of new era in which previously incurable disorders now have potential for cure.

Dr. Lox notes that researchers internationally are moving forward with numerous stem cell trials. For example, Italian researchers have shown that corneal burns, resulting in blindness, have been cured with stem cell therapy. Therefore, it seems only natural that spinal cord injuries also be studied and given a trial. Dr. Lox points out that if the stem cells are autologous (derived from the patient’s own tissues) there is little chance of any harm coming to the patient – a blind patient cannot become more blind, and likewise, if one is paralyzed, the hope of regaining use of their affected limbs is a very potent force in motivation to find cures for previously-thought incurable disorders.

Dr. Dennis Lox references the case of Rusty Leech, who sustained a spinal cord injury in 1998, leaving his lower body paralyzed. Leech traveled from the U.S. to India in early 2008 for embryonic stem cell therapy. Five months after the therapy, Leech was able to stand up without support and was able to ambulate with braces and a walker. He has since returned to India for additional stem cell therapy.

There had been numerous other instances of patient’s reporting improvement after stem cell therapy and it is time that independent larger scale clinical trials be implemented in spinal cord injury patients.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quadriplegic Doug Smith's new song

A new song composed by Petersburg native and pianist Doug Smith, called “If I Could Fly,” will be heard by the public for the first time today.

The instrumental — produced, arranged and mixed by Alan Crossland, owner of Route 1, Acuff Studio — is heard within a music video that will precede every movie shown at the Science Spectrum’s Omni Theater, 2579 S. Loop 289.

That includes today’s much anticipated premiere of heralded documentary “Tornado Alley.”

Smith remains confined to a wheelchair.

That has not changed since being diagnosed as an incomplete quadriplegic after rolling his 2004 Toyota Tundra truck on rural FM 789 in the middle of the night on July 25, 2007, then hanging upside down in the truck cab for hours until being found.

Gaining use of even a few fingers demanded an excruciating amount of time, not to mention will power, but Smith said, “There was a point when I got so burned out on my physical therapy and the occupational therapy. What ended up bringing me back was my piano.

“Mentally, physically, spiritually, I credit the piano. There has to be some sort of paradox in the thing that almost cost me my life also ending up saving my life.

“When I wrecked my truck,” he explained, “I was a selfish person, chasing the music business dream.”

Smith first became excited about “If I Could Fly” in 2009, stating in an A-J interview then that parts of the composition “just give me feelings of flight.”

At the time, Smith said that he had rehabbed himself to the point where he “can play three-note changes fairly well, and four-or five-note changes awkwardly well.”

He noted this week that what has improved is his ability to compose. Even when he could not move a finger, said Smith, “New music kept coming to me. My brain never stopped working.

“My hands are not what they used to be. I’ll never be able to play ‘Passion’ or ‘West Texas’ again. But now I play in a different way. I’m able to at least get a melody out there, and then surround myself with great musicians.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Human spinal cord injury cure w/ stem cells begins clinical trials

StemCells, Inc. (Nasdaq:STEM) announced today the initiation of a Phase I/II clinical trial of its proprietary HuCNS-SC® human neural stem cells in chronic spinal cord injury. This trial is now open for enrollment, and will accrue patients with both complete and incomplete degrees of paralysis who are three to 12 months post-injury. The trial is being conducted in Switzerland at the Balgrist University Hospital, University of Zurich, a world leading medical center for spinal cord injury and rehabilitation, and is being led by Armin Curt, MD, Professor and Chairman, Spinal Cord Injury Center at the University of Zurich, and Medical Director of the Paraplegic Center at the Balgrist University Hospital.

Dr. Curt stated, "The launch of this trial is truly a landmark event for the field of spinal cord injury research. For patients facing a lifetime of paralysis, the prospect that neural stem cell transplantation may one day help restore some degree of function offers new hope. What is particularly exciting to me is the innovative design of this trial. Within the setting of one trial, we will progress from the most severely injured to less severely injured. In addition to our primary focus on assessing safety, the design of the trial will afford a very real near-term opportunity to observe possible benefits to the patient, which may include improved sensation, motor function, bowel or bladder function. I am extremely pleased to be involved in a study that is breaking barriers in the search for a treatment that could lead to improved quality of life for injured patients."

Stephen Huhn, MD, FACS, FAAP, Vice President and Head of the CNS Program at StemCells, Inc., added, "Dr. Curt is an internationally renowned expert in spinal cord injury, and we look forward to working with him and his team of experienced investigators at Balgrist. Our HuCNS-SC cells have shown significant promise in preclinical studies for restoring lost motor function, and we are excited to take this important first step toward our goal of developing a neural stem cell therapy that could offer similar benefits for patients living with paralysis. We plan to enroll the first cohort of patients with complete injury this year, and will then transition to patients with incomplete injuries early next year."

About the Trial

The trial is designed to assess both safety and preliminary efficacy. The trial will enroll 12 patients with thoracic (chest-level) spinal cord injury who have a neurological injury level of T2-T11, and will include both complete and incomplete injuries as classified by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale. The first cohort will be patients classified as ASIA A, or patients who have what is considered to be a "complete" injury, or no movement or feeling below the level of the injury. The second cohort will progress to patients classified as ASIA B, or patients with some degree of feeling below the injury. The third cohort will consist of patients classified as ASIA C, or patients with some degree of movement below the injury. In addition to assessing safety, the trial will measure defined clinical endpoints, such as changes in sensation, motor, and bowel/bladder function. All patients will receive HuCNS-SC cells through direct transplantation into the spinal cord, and will be temporarily immunosuppressed. Following transplantation, the patients will be evaluated regularly over a 12-month period in order to monitor and evaluate the safety and tolerability of the HuCNS-SC cells, the surgery and the immunosuppression, and to measure any recovery of neurological function below the injury site. As the Company intends to follow the effects of this therapy long-term, a separate four-year observational study will be initiated at the conclusion of this trial. For information on patient enrollment, interested parties may contact the study nurse either by phone at +41 44 386 39 01, or by email at

Additional information about the Company's spinal cord injury program can be found on the StemCells, Inc. website at and at , including video interviews with Company executives and independent collaborators.


Striving to walk while planning to live

His tragic injury drew statewide attention when it happened last fall. The candlelight vigils and fundraisers that followed have subsided, but not Chris Norton's fight to return to his old life.

Steps: it is a relative term. One of many in the new life of Chris Norton. Chris says, "Sometimes it feels like if you try to go slow and easy it's really hard, once you kind of get in a rhythm, it feels really relaxed and easy."

Easy: that's another one. A term once simple to consider, and one that's not anymore. "I never knew how complicated walking was until now. All the different things that have to be in place..."

Healing a body from a spinal cord injury is much the same. It demands patience despite aggravation, strength from foreign limbs, and endless, minute, excruciating steps. He adds, "If I can just get my right, I wouldn't have to step over as much with my left. It would go a lot smoother."

Megan Gill, a Physical Therapist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota says, “That's the first question that even patients and their family ask, especially the neurosurgeon, after they come out of surgery is 'Am I ever going to walk again?' or 'Is my family member ever going to walk again?' so it's what a lot of people focus their whole rehab and their therapy goals on is the walking."


Walking unassisted is still a long way off. In the mean time, it's up to Norton, his family and his team of physical therapists to focus on progress. Again--it's relative, but it's real and here's an example:

Chris says, "It just feels awesome that you're making progress and everything is still going the right way. But then afterward, after I get on my elbows or do something new, I want to do the next step so it's always looking a step further."

"Rehab goes beyond just whether you can walk and whether you can get up and do the things that you normally did” Says Gill, “It's getting your life back and doing the things that you enjoy doing."

The new life in Rochester, Minnesota is rehabilitating Norton's parents, too. They've been here the whole time and have found some peace.

Chris’s Father, Terry Norton says, "This was a tragic injury, it was a tragic event, but we needed to prevent it from being a tragedy. To me, a tragedy is when nothing good comes out of it."


Thursday, March 10, 2011

We've got spirit, how bout you?

Cheerleading most dangerous sport

Cheerleading was at the center of Laura Jackson’s life since she began shaking pom-poms for a pee-wee football team in the third grade.

At 14, she dreamed of cheering in high school and then, maybe college. But on the day of tryouts for the freshman high school squad in Livonia, Mich., those plans were shattered.

That afternoon, as her turn arrived, she got ready to perform a back tuck, a challenging gymnastics move she’d learned just for tryouts. She eyed her spotter, a girl just three years older than herself, and took a running start across the gymnasium floor before launching into the flip.

She still doesn’t know quite what went wrong, but she didn’t make it all the way around; she smacked her neck against the ground, skidding so hard that a piece of her blond ponytail ripped from her scalp.

No one in the room realized how grave her injury was.

Her older sister, Jenna Jackson, also a cheerleader, says she watched the cheer coach and other teachers try to figure out what to do as Laura gasped for air, her face turning blue as she mouthed over and over, “Can’t breathe.”

Laura had broken her top two vertebrae in her neck, and the crushed bones kept pinching her brain stem, which made her heart stop and start, stop and start. And while several people in the gymnasium that day knew CPR, no one knew that it was something Laura desperately needed in that moment. “They thought because my heart was beating, I was OK,” Laura recalls.

Instead, she’s now a quadriplegic, unable to move a muscle from the neck down.

Cheerleading — not basketball, not softball, not even field hockey or ice hockey — is by far the most dangerous sport for girls . Cheer accounts for 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school athletics, shows a recent report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Earth shattering Christ's Church paralyzes five

Five people have been left paralysed by the earthquake.

Back and spinal injuries have been the most common, says the ACC, which has received more than 280 injury claims for injured backs or spines.

Burwood Spinal Unit consultant Dr Raj Singhal said Christchurch Hospital saw three months of spinal injuries in one day.

Of five patients with spinal-cord injuries, four were paralysed and one had partial paralysis.

Another 18 to 20 people broke vertebrae, but nerves were not affected so they would walk again. Six or seven had to be operated on, while others were put in braces.

Singhal said one spinal-cord patient had spleen removed in a life-saving operation and had been transferred to intensive care in Wellington.

A woman had a "nasty fracture of the neck" and was transferred to Auckland with her daughter, who was also seriously injured.

The mother was able to move her arms and legs, which was "good news", Singhal said.

One patient was an incomplete tetraplegic and would probably walk again.

He said the injuries were suffered in several ways. One woman had a chimney fall on her, another had a crush injury and one was pulled from a collapsed building.

Spinal-cord patients would eventually return to Christchurch for three to six months of rehabilitation at Burwood's specialist unit, Singhal said.

Overall, Christchurch was lucky as the number of spinal-cord injuries could have been higher, he said.

An ACC spokeswoman said the corporation received 20 spinal-injury claims.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why do SCI have more infections?

Mobility is a challenge for spinal cord injured patients. Infection is another. Adam Thrasher, assistant professor of health and human performance (HHP), says infection is the leading cause of death for people living with spinal cord injuries for two years or more. He and HHP colleague Richard Simpson are investigating why the immune system is blunted after a spinal cord injury.

"People who have sustained such an injury have much higher infection rates than the general population, particularly in the urinary tract, lungs and gastro-intestinal tract," Thrasher said. "They are very susceptible to pneumonia and furthermore, because their immune system is compromised, they have a hard time fighting these infections."

There are many theories as to why exercise helps an able-bodied person's immune system. The body may respond to exercise by releasing more antibodies and white blood cells, allowing them to find and fight illnesses before they become problematic, or the reduction in stress may assist the body in staving off illness. Though many theories exist for the able-bodied population, there are few for those with spinal cord injuries.

"It's a bit of a mystery because the injury is to the central nervous system," Thrasher said. "This is the part of the body that controls different muscles and organs. We know that there is paralysis; we know that there are limits to their mobility. But the immune system is one of the secondary complications. We don't know exactly why it happens. The immune system simply doesn't perform as well when the central nervous system is damaged."