Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Researcher, Doctor Giving Hope To Spinal Injury Sufferers

One of the world's leading spinal injury researchers shared the latest developments with patients at Craig Hospital Tuesday.

Drew Wills loved to run, climb mountains and pedal bicycles. Then a terrible ski accident severed his spinal cord. Life as he knew it has ended, but he remains optimistic about the future.

"I do have hope that some day I will have my legs again," Wills said.

Dr. Scott Falci thinks that is a distinct possibility. "Oh, I think, absolutely, in his lifetime we will be going to clinical trial."

Falci from Craig Hospital and Dr. Ake Sager from the Karolinksa Institute in Seden have joined forces to give hope to patients with spinal cord injuries. The hope lies in stem cells -- cells that could be implanted in an injured spinal cord and multiply as new, healthy nerve cells.

Dr. Sager believes he has arrived at the last hurdle in his research with laboratory animals and stem cells.

"The last hurdle, from my perspective, would be to show in a laboratory animal in a lab experiment the very thing you want to happen in the patient," he said.

When Dr. Sager's laboratory animals move and walk again after receiving stem cells, then Dr. Falci can begin to implant the stem cells in people.

Falci and Sager said they are only about two years away from the day stem cell research will move from animals to humans. When that day comes, Wills would like to be the first in line to receive stem cells.

"There are such things as dancing with your wife and your daughter," he said. "So it would mean a lot to me to be able to do those things again. Spinal cord research gives me that hope."