FDA approves trial for new spinal cord treatment

Thousands of people in the U.S. suffer serious spinal cord injuries each year. What some people may not realize is that many of these injuries occur in the workplace. Unfortunately, spinal cord injuries are often serious and can prevent someone from returning back to work.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its permission to a company to begin work on testing a new stem cell based treatment for spinal cord injuries. Experts hope that the new treatment will prove successful in helping improve the lives of those who have lost function due to spinal cord injury.

The company StemCells, Inc. will conduct the trial, which will involve spinal cord injury patients in both the U.S. and Canada. This first phase of testing will focus less on measuring the efficacy of the company's stem cell treatment and more on whether the treatment is safe for humans.

The problem with spinal cord injuries, of course, is that nervous cells cannot regenerate. Experts have focused on the use of stem cell therapies in treating spinal cord injuries because of the cells' ability to become any other type of cell. The idea is to use these cells to artificially regenerate nerve cells to restore lost connections. If successful, these newly restored connections could prove to be key to regaining the ability to feel, move a limb or even walk.

Although the use of stem cells may seem simple in concept, researchers have discovered that it is much more difficult in practice. One of the main challenges has been that scientists are unable to determine what happens to stem cells after they are injected into a patient's body. While some may turn into neurons, others may not. In other trials, doctors injected patients with millions of stem cells to test their safety. Although none of the patients experienced severe side effects, none of the patients saw any appreciable improvement, either.

The current initial trial is important because it will determine whether StemCells' proposed treatment is safe for use on human patients. The real test, however, will come later on, when trials that measure the effectiveness of the treatment begin. The past few years have seen many promising treatments proposed, but, so far, none have emerged as the answer for spinal cord injuries. Experts hope that this time will be different.

If you have suffered a serious injury and are unable to work, contact a knowledgeable workers' compensation attorney.