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Paralysed Man Regains Movement After Stem Cell Therapy


An unfortunate car accident left Kris Boesen, 21, with a devastating spinal cord injury and the belief that he’d never walk again. But after seeing early improvements from a stem cell therapy trial, he’s now hopeful his condition may one day be reversed.

The spinal cord is the most important structure between the body and the brain.

The cylindrical bundle of nerve fibres that runs up the spine acts as a highway of information for organs, muscles, and tissues, sending signals that dictate movement and sensation back to the centre of the nervous system.

Suffering damage to the spinal cord disrupts these signals. This often occurs as a result of vertebrae tearing into cord tissue or pressing down on signal-carrying nerves.

Spinal cord injuries are difficult to treat even after minor or ‘incomplete’ damage. Incomplete damage describes a case in which the patient has some movement and sensation below the injury site. But when the damage is ‘complete’,  the cord is incapable of sending signals below the level of the injury, and as a result, the patient is paralysed from below that point.

Doctors told Kris Boesen he’d likely never regain movement or sensation below his neck. There was hope, however, in a stem cell study on patients with spinal injuries being conducted at the Keck Medical Center of the University of Southern California (USC).

Boesen qualified for the study and within two weeks was receiving stem cell injections directly into his spinal cord at the cervical division at the nape of his neck.

As told by his Dad, Boesen was just happy for the opportunity to try something – to make an improvement in his current condition. But what was to come would transcend both their expectations.

Building a new life, one stem cell at a time

“Patients who suffer these disabilities want more than anything else to do something for themselves… They want to be more independent, less dependent. It makes all of us appreciate how important it is that we can do these things.” –Dr. Liu, Director of the USC Neurorestoration Center

The treatment involved injecting ten million stem cells, known as AST-OPC1 cells, into Boesen’s back.

Normally, for recovering spinal cord patients, the treatment consists of medicines, braces, and challenging rehabilitation therapy. Patients may regain some feeling or movement after weeks or months of recovery, but it’s rare they return to full health.

Two weeks after Boesen’s stem cell therapy, the effects of the accident were starting to improve. Today, three months since the treatment, Boesen can do many of the things he never thought he would: use his mobile phone, feed himself, write his name, and hug his friends and family.

There is still a long road ahead for Boesen to be the fit and independent young man he was. Day-to-day he gets around in a motorised wheelchair, and he is likely undergoing a strict rehabilitation program to improve his movements. But there’s no doubt the stem cell trial at USC helped accelerate his progress and give him the hope he needs to get there.

“If I was there and I was able to thank them… I would just tell them, ‘Thank you for giving (me) my life back.  Thank you for allowing me to live my life again.” –Kris Boesen, following stem cell therapy