Breakthrough research on human patients will move forward at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in the near future. The trial is the only one of its kind in the world and focuses on the Schwann cells, which are known to awaken neurons.
Dr. Barth Green and Nick Buoniconti, the father of Marc Buoniconti, who was paralyzed during a football game, started the Miami Project at the University of Miami 26 years ago.
“Every great journey starts with a first step. We’re here today to celebrate that first step,” said Nick Buoniconti.
In the study, millions of cells will be created from a piece of peripheral nerve with Schwann cells taken from the patient. Within five weeks, the new cells will be injected into the injured area of the spinal cord.
“They re-insulate the damaged fibers. The Schwann cells also make the injured spinal cord more permissive for regeneration. So these cells can also wake neurons up and get them to grow,” explains Dalton Dietrich, the Miami Project scientific director.
Despite the similarities in the procedure, these are not the same as stem cells. The cells must also be transplanted within 26 to 40 days after the injury. In phase one, the FDA researchers will test the safety in just eight patients that have very new injuries to the spinal cord.
“The fact that we can use a person’s own cells is extremely important and that’s been one of the most important factors that drive our research,” said Mary Bartlett-Bunge, who is heading the research.
“We are looking for patients between the ages of 18 and 50 who have sustained a thoracic spinal cord injury with complete paralysis in the legs and loss of sensation in the legs,” said ” UM neurosurgeon Dr. Allen Levi, the study’s principal investigator.
If the study shows that Schwann cell therapy is safe for use in the newly injured, the University of Miami will immediately apply to the FDA for permission to attempt the procedure in patients that have been injured longer.
“There are tens of millions of people out there who have brain injuries and other neurological degenerative diseases, and all of these people potentially can benefit from this ability to repair the central nervous system,” he said.
For our previous coverage on the Miami Project’s paralysis cure testing, see: “Geron Abandons Stem Cell Paralysis Cure, but the Miami Project Carries On.”