A therapy developed by Aileen Anderson and Brian Cummings of UC Irvine’s Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center in collaboration with researchers at StemCells Inc. will be the basis of the world’s first clinical trial using human neural stem cells to treat spinal cord injury.
Swissmedic, the Swiss regulatory agency for therapeutic products, has authorized a Phase I/II clinical trial for chronic spinal cord injury, cases in which inflammation has stabilized and recovery has reached a plateau.
The trial will utilize StemCells Inc.’s proprietary purified human neural stem cells and will be conducted at the University of Zurich’s University Hospital Balgrist, one of the world’s leading medical centers for spinal cord injury and rehabilitation.
It’s designed to assess both safety and preliminary efficacy in patients with varying degrees of paralysis who are between three and 12 months post-injury at the time of transplantation. Enrollment is expected to begin in early 2011.
“This is tremendously exciting news,” said Anderson, UCI associate professor of physical medicine & rehabilitation and anatomy & neurobiology. “Human neural stem cells may hold great promise for helping people with spinal cord injuries regain lost function.”
In their collaboration with StemCells Inc., Anderson and Cummings conducted eight years of preclinical studies in rodents that demonstrated the significant therapeutic potential of human neural stem cells.
Their efforts have shown how these cells, when transplanted into damaged spinal columns, can differentiate into neural tissue cells — such as oligodendrocytes and early neurons — and migrate to injury sites. In recent studies, the researchers found that the treatment restored hind-limb function in mice when transplanted in the early chronic period after spinal cord injury.
Other stem cell studies have focused on the acute, or early, phase of spinal cord injury, a period of up to a few weeks after the initial trauma when drug therapies can lead to some functional recovery. The Swiss trial is significant because it will test treatment safety and restoration of mobility during the chronic, or later, phase. There are currently no drug therapies to help restore function during this phase.
“About 1.3 million individuals in the U.S. are living with chronic spinal cord injury,” said Cummings, UCI associate professor of physical medicine & rehabilitation and anatomy & neurobiology. “This trial will be the first opportunity to demonstrate that human neural stem cells may be a viable treatment approach for them.”
StemCells Inc., based in Palo Alto, Calif., is engaged in the research, development and commercialization of stem cell-based therapeutics and tools for use in stem cell-based research and drug discovery. Additional information about its spinal cord injury program can be found here.
The Swiss spinal cord injury trial is the second involving UCI stem cell researchers. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved a Phase I safety trial of an embryonic stem cell treatment created by Hans Keirstead. Conducted by Geron Corp., the multisite acute spinal cord injury trial enrolled its first patient in October.
About the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center: Promoting basic and clinical research and training in the field of stem cell biology at UC Irvine, the center is a leading international institution in stem cell research and clinical applications. It consolidates existing research strengths and clinical initiatives at UCI and serves as a nucleus for growth via collaboration and new recruits. The center provides an organizational structure for all areas of stem cell research, supports premier graduate training, maintains a core stem cell facility and equipment, hosts guest researchers and annual meetings, and contributes to research and dialogue on policy and ethical issues related to stem cells. For more information, visit http://stemcell.uci.edu.
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.9 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.
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