A Japanese university has successfully transplanted stem cells into a patient with a spinal cord injury, in the first clinical trial of its kind.
There is currently no effective treatment for paralysis caused by severe spinal cord injuries, which is thought to affect more than 100,000 people in Japan alone.
Surgeons at Tokyo Keio University want to study whether induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells can be used to treat lesions.
iPS cells are created by stimulating mature, already specialized cells back to a youthful state.
They can then be asked to mature into different cell types, with the Keio University study using iPS-derived cells from the neural stem.
The first step in the trial involved implanting more than two million iPS-derived cells into a patient’s spinal cord in an operation last month.
“This is definitely a big step forward,” Masaya Nakamura, a professor at Keio University who is leading the research, told reporters.
But there is still “a lot of work to be done” before the treatment can be put into practice, he added.
The initial stage of the study is aimed at confirming the safety of the transplant method, the researchers said.
The patient will be monitored by an independent committee for up to three months to decide if the study can continue safely and if others can receive transplants.
The team also hopes to see if stem cell implants will improve neurological function and quality of life.
The university received government approval for the test in 2019, but recruitment has been temporarily suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Patient details remain confidential, but the team is focusing on people who were injured between 14 and 28 days before the operation.
The number of cells implanted was determined after safety experiments in animals, and the researchers cautioned that while they will monitor therapeutic effects, the primary goal of the study is to study the safety of injecting the cells.