In March of 2016, Kristopher (Kris) Boesen suffered a traumatic injury to his cervical spine when his car fishtailed on wet road, sending his vehicle into a tree and then crashing into a telephone pole. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down and doctors warned his parents that he may never regain motor control again.
They also said that he may qualify for an experimental new procedure, involving stem cells, that could actually repair some of the damage.
They went for it and in April, Charles Liu, MD, PhD, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, in collaboration with Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and Keck Medicine of USC, began the procedure.
He injected an experimental dose of 10 million AST-OPC1 cells directly into Kris’ cervical spinal cord.
“Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but generally does very little to restore motor or sensory function,” explains Liu. “With this study, we are testing a procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands. Restoring that level of function could significantly improve the daily lives of patients with severe spinal injuries.”
Two weeks later, Kris began showing signs of improvement and within two months he was able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair and hug his friends and family.
“As of 90 days post-treatment, Kris has gained significant improvement in his motor function, up to two spinal cord levels,” said Liu. “In Kris’ case, two spinal cord levels means the difference between using your hands to brush your teeth, operate a computer or do other things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, so having this level of functional independence cannot be overstated.”
“All I’ve wanted from the beginning was a fighting chance,” said Kris, who has a passion for fixing up and driving sports cars and was studying to become a life insurance broker at the time of the accident. “But if there’s a chance for me to walk again, then heck yeah! I want to do anything possible to do that.”
This new, experimental medical branch is showing the immense value of neurorestoration and regenerative medicine. Though doctors are reticent to predict Boesen’s future improvement, there is no doubt that it has done something never thought possible before.