Stem cell clinical trial news: Check out a new article, “Science, Stem Cells and Serendipity
," about Aileen Anderson and her husband Brian Cummings. They are neuroscientists at the Reeve-Irvine Center at the University of California, Irvine, and their work is behind the only clinical trial at this time involving stem cells and chronic spinal cord injury.
Their 2005 paper, “Human Neural Stem Cells Differentiate and Promote Locomotor Recovery in Spinal Cord-Injured Mice" (download from this page
) formed the basis of the StemCells, Inc. trial going on now in Switzerland, testing human stem cells in people three to 12 months post injury. Swissmedic, the equivalent of the FDA there, is overseeing safety. The stem cells (adult cells, derived from fetuses, not embryos) were transplanted at Balgrist University Hospital of the University of Zurich; the first of 12 patients in the trial was a 23-year old German who was spinal cord injured in an auto accident in April last year.
It’s a Phase I/II trial, mainly looking at safety, but also considering functional recovery. In the aforementioned article, Anderson noted this:
The first three patients had no sensory or motor function. They can't feel anything; they can't move anything. You would need a big, whopping effect to see any improvement in these subjects. Patients in the next cohorts will have a little bit of sensory or motor function. There will be more areas of spared tissue. We're counting on that as a path to restore connectivity.
StemCell has trials in the works using the same human cell line for age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over 55 years of age, and for Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease (PMD), a myelination disorder that affects young children (that trial was completed two months ago).
StemCells, a publicly traded company, is seeking funds from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM – the agency set up by prop 71 and $6 billion from state taxpayers) to move toward trials for cervical spinal cord injury.
The company says it also hopes to use its stem cells to address stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and liver diseases.
Another of Anderson’s jobs is running what’s called the Animal Core Lab for the Reeve Foundation International Research Consortium for Spinal Cord Injury. It’s a sort of custom shop for collaborating scientists to farm out some specialized work. In Anderson’s words:
At the time the Consortium was formed, only a handful of the labs had direct expertise in spinal cord injury. The rest of the players were really SCI novices – well respected within their individual fields, very prominent labs, but from other areas of expertise. The goal was to get the various labs to direct their particular expertise to the problem of spinal cord injury. Forming a focused collaborative network meant that the labs had to either quickly develop expertise, or rely on the labs that had expertise. As The Consortium progressed, the load on the labs that did have spinal cord injury expertise grew significantly. The idea came about to increase opportunity for collaboration and decrease the load on individual labs by making a core facility – a separate lab that first and foremost provides support to the main Consortium labs.
Serendipity at work: Here’s Cummings on how things have sort of fallen in place:
What's amazing to me is that just 10 years ago, StemCells Inc. was talking to Aileen about transplanting stem cells in animals, and now it's already in a clinical trial. If you're sitting in a wheelchair, 10 years is an extremely long time, but it's short in terms of scientific progress.
Had we not been a team, this never would have happened. If the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation hadn't supported the spinal cord injury research that brought us to UCI, this never would have happened. There's a lot of serendipity. It's how science works.
More than you’ll ever need to know about Aileen and Brian … here’s another recent piece
about Orange County’s “stem cell couple.”