Trial using Schwann cells may offer new hope for patients paralyzed from spinal cord injury


A collision during a football game left Marc Bouniconti paralyzed from the neck down.

"Next thing you know, I went from the best shape of my life to fighting for my life in a split second," said Bouniconti.

Now the son of an NFL Hall of Famer is fighting to walk again and this could be the key. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a trial to evaluate the safety of Schwann cells, cells responsible for sending electrical signals throughout the nervous system. These cells play a crucial role in the repair of peripheral nerve fibers.

"The vision is that, can we use these cells that normally function in the peripheral nervous system to repair the central nervous system?" said Dalton Dietrich, III, Ph.D., scientific director at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

In the trial, patients newly diagnosed with acute spinal cord injury will be injected with their own Schwann cells. The idea is to help existing nerves in the injured site grow. Researchers saw about 70 percent improvement in function and movement in paralyzed animals injected with Schwann cells.

"We'll never know...what we can accomplish until we do this experiment in man," said Dietrich.

While he's not taking part in the trial, Bouniconti hopes one day it will help him.

"Science can do more than build a wheelchair," he said. "We can find a cure."

The trial will help develop future studies targeting different types of injuries and therapeutic combinations.

Dietrich said the study could take about three to four years to complete.

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