A promising treatment for patients with spinal cord injuries was approved today by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The spinal cord therapy will test a type of cell found in the CNS (central nervous system) to see if it is safe and effective at treating people with severe injuries. The company behind the treatment, Asterias Biotherapeutics, is being awarded $14.3 million to test oligodendrocyte progenitor cells or OPCs and will match the funds from CIRM.
OPCs have two important functions in the body; they help stimulate the growth of nerve cells after an injury, and they produce myelin, a kind of insulation that conducts electrical signals in the spine. It’s hoped that transplanting OPCs to the site of a spinal cord injury could help restore some function to the patient. These cells were tested in a first-in-human trial in 2010 under Geron with a simple goal of assessing the safety of this approach. Five patients with lower spinal cord injury were transplanted with no signs of serious side effects or safety concerns.
In this trial, escalating doses of OPCs will be given to a different group of patients with the most severe upper spinal cord injuries, where this type of therapy is anticipated to be more likely to show activity, and monitored for any improvements.