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Concerns over spinal cell trial
No 'magic' cure from new spinal trial
Published: January 20, 2011 Source: ONE News
The spinal injuries unit at Christchurch's Burwood Hospital has concerns about a radical new treatment that is giving hope to those facing life in a wheelchair.
Ethics experts this week gave approval for the country's first clinical trial using adult stem cells to treat people with spinal injuries.
A dozen people now confined to wheelchairs will later this year have stem cells from inside their nose injected into the site of their spinal injuries.
However, Dr Richard Acland, Burwood's director of the spinal injuries unit, told TV ONE's Breakfast today that the two-and-a-half year trial is a waste of money and will only create false hope.
Acland said the unit has concerns about the risks involved in the trial.
"It is not proven at all in the time it's been done in Portugal, so we don't see why New Zealand should embrace this study," he said.
But Spinal Cord Society president Noela Vallis said the procedure has been carried out overseas on well over 100 people with few negative side-effects and varying degrees of improvement for each patient.
The society has submitted data about the trial to the ethics committee at least 10 times. Each time approval for the trial was rejected, until now.
Acland has praised that effort from the society.
"They've shown amazing energy in pursuing this trial, but to take a piece of tissue from the nose and put it into the part of the spinal cord that is damaged and then hope that some of the cells are going to regenerate and create connectivity is a little beyond comprehension."
Acland believes there are a few small positives.
He said the decompressing of the spinal canal as part of the study could be helpful as it may remove some scar tissue.
"But it's the transferring of the tissue from the nose in the hope that there is miracle cell that will magically create connectivity that worries us," he said.
Six people will have the surgery while the other six will just go through the intensive rehabilitation and be the control - or placebo - group to benchmark the effects of the stem cells.
Paraplegics whose injury occurred between two and seven years ago will be considered.
Acland said despite his pessimism about this particular trial there are exciting discoveries being made in the spinal injuries area.
"There are exciting possibilities in spinal cord regeneration repair but they are not around stem cells, they are around molecules and substances that will alter the spinal cord's very complex cells very early on after injury, so we are excited about the research possibilities," he said.
New Zealand has about 5000 people in wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries - and at least one person joins that group every week.
First treatment in 2007. Pioneering ever since.
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