The Chief Executive of the China Spinal Cord Injury Network (CSCIN), Dr Wise Young, has announced that stem-cell therapy trials have shown very significant results in helping immobile patients to become mobile again. Following the second round of tests that use stem cells to regrow nerve fibres, the CSCIN has applied for regulatory approval in China for a third and final phase, which could begin in just a few months' time.
The US-based Dr Young sees these results as groundbreaking, and insists that a third round of tests could have the potential to help people who thought they would never be mobile to walk again in the future. Dr Young also recognises the possibility of Hong Kong's becoming a leading contender in the field of spinal cord injury treatments should the trial turn out positive. He says that this would mean that Hong Kong "will be the centre for stem-cell therapies."
The process that is being developed involves injecting umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells into the spines of patients in order to help regenerate nerves. Lithium, moreover, is used to promote the growth of nerve fibres. The results were that CSCIN found 75% of the patients in Kunming who received umbilical cord blood cell transplants alongside intensive therapy were able to walk with minimal assistance within seven years of suffering total spinal cord injury. This marks the first occurrence in medical science of the actual regeneration of the spinal cord.
Whilst the second phase involved only twenty patients, according to CSCIN the third phase will involve 120 patients in China and a further 120 across India, Norway and the USA. Each component of the combination therapy will be retested in this third phase. The CSCIN foresee that if this trial is successful, they should achieve "worldwide regulatory approval" in the year 2015.
Young also remarked that whilst China is currently investing heavily in stem cell research, such technology remains highly controversial in the USA, largely due to anti-abortion groups' concerns about cells derived from human embryos.