Stem Cells for Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury & Paralysis

Spinal Cord Injury & Paralysis

Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) changes people’s lives in an instant. Perhaps the most shocking of these injuries affect people who are highly active and in good physical health.

Chris Barr is such a person. A passionate surfer, Chris’s first response when told he had been paralysed was to ask his wife, Debbie, to ‘pull the plug’.

It was February 12, 2017. I went surfing like I had every weekend for ten years and I fell. I went headfirst into the ocean floor with enough force to break my neck in eight places. The worst of the break was at my C3 which means you stop breathing as well. So, paralyzed below my neck. (Chris Barr, 53)

Spinal cord injury is a devastating condition with limited pharmacological treatment options to restore function. Chris didn’t hope to regain motor or sensory functions after his surfing accident: “The prognosis was — was bad… And bad meaning, you know, probably a 95 to 97% chance that I’ll have nothing below my neck.” His injury was labelled as American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale grade A.

Regenerative therapies for paralysis

Regenerative medicine using stem cells has been one avenue explored in recent years to seek for answers to paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries. 

For this procedure, Chris underwent a stem cell therapy which had never been tried before. Stem cells were taken from his own body and transformed in the lab into spine cells.

These stem cells were derived from adipose (fat) tissues. 100 million autologous AD-MSCs (stem cells from Chris’s own adipose tissue) were then injected into his spinal cord at the level of the lumbar spine 11 months after his spinal injury.

With regular physiotherapy, Chris has regained his senses in the lower limbs and can walk on his own feet. Chris didn’t experience any severe adverse events. Chris was tested at 3, 6, 12, and 18 months following the injection in both motor and sensory scores based on International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury.

The authors of the paper concluded that the stem cell therapy was ” feasible and safe and suggested meaningful signs of improved, rather than stabilized, neurologic status warranting further clinical evaluation.”

We couldn’t thank them enough. Like, what you’re doing matters.
You’re changing people’s lives.

Debbie Barr, Chris’s wife

According to Dr Bydon, despite the fact that not all may respond similarly, this study sparks hope among hundreds of thousands of individuals who suffer from traumatic spinal cord injuries each year and remain paralyzed for life.

Bydon said, “The hope is that we will have novel treatments for spinal cord injuries in the coming years that will be different from what we have today. These will be therapies that do not rely upon supportive care, but therapies that rely on science to create a regenerative process for the spinal cord.”


stem cell preservation

BSc (Hons) Microbiology

Chief Executive Officer | Biovault Family

Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.

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