Saturday, January 25, 2014

New trial offers new hope for those with spinal cord injuries

A Winnipeg paramedic has become the first Canadian to take part in an international clinical trial involving the treatment of spinal cord injuries using stem cells.

Alex Petric was injured last year during a winter vacation in Panama.

“I misjudged the water and just dove in,” the 29-year-old recalls. “I hit shallow water and became paralyzed immediately.”

Petric, now a paraplegic, became involved with the trial just four months after his injury.

“It’s a phase one trial which means that it’s looking at the safety and tolerability of the procedure,” explains Dr. Steve Casha, medical team lead for the University of Calgary.

A Swiss company, called Stem Cells Incorporated is the driving force behind the research. A team in Switzerland has already treated eight other spinal cord patients.

During the trial, researchers must first identify the precise location of Petric’s spinal cord injury. Then, stem cells are injected into two sites above and two sites below the injury to hopefully recreate lost tissue.

“What these cells will hopefully do, and what they seem to do from previous clinical studies is take up residence in the spinal cord. They are a self-renewing population and they can differentiate or become various cells,” Dr. Casha explains.

While the first phase of the trial focuses on safety, the ultimate goal is to develop a cure for spinal cord injuries. So far, two patients in the study have regained sensation.

Petric says his expectations are realistic, but his dream is to walk again.

“That would be beyond words,” he says. “That would be a smile I couldn’t wipe off my face.”

The study is still recruiting patients. Anyone in North America who is a paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury can contact the University of Calgary at 403-944-4334 or the University of Toronto at 416-603-5285 for more information.

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