Spinal injury patients needed for stem cell treatment study

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SAN DIEGO — The UC San Diego Health System put out a call Monday for eight spinal cord injury patients to take part in a five-year test of the safety of a new treatment involving neural stem cells.

The researchers are looking for people who suffered an injury to the middle or lower levels of the spine’s thoracic vertebrae between one and two years ago. According to UCSD, the injury must be between the seventh and 12th thoracic vertebrae.

“The goal of this study is to evaluate the safety of transplanting neural stem cells into the spine for what one day could be a treatment for spinal cord injuries,” said Dr. Joseph Ciacci, the study’s principal investigator and a neurosurgeon at UC San Diego Health System. “The study’s immediate goal, however, is to determine whether  injecting these neural stem cells into the spine of patients with spinal cord injury is safe.”

The doctors also want to know how long the transplanted stem cells will last, and whether drugs designed to prevent rejection by the immune system are effective, according to UCSD Health.

The researchers will also look for possible changes in motor and sensory function, bowel and bladder function, and pain levels.

The stem cells were tested in laboratory rats by Ciacci and Dr. Martin Marsala, of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. They detected signs of improved motor function with minimal side effects. The cells have also been tested for safety in human patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

UCSD cautioned prospective test subjects that since human tests are just beginning, unforeseen risks, complications or unpredictable outcomes are possible.

The clinical trial at UC San Diego Health System is funded by Neuralstem Inc. and was launched and supported by the UC San Diego Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center. The center was recently created to “advance leading-edge stem cell medicine and science, protect and counsel patients, and accelerate innovative stem cell research into patient diagnostics and therapy,” according to UCSD.

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