A New Life: Paralysed Person Leads A Better Life After Breakthrough Medical Treatment

Screeching tires; a haze outside the car window; a loud crash; numbness!

Kristopher Boesen woke up the next day in a hospital with pipes winding in and out of his skin and with no control over his body whatsoever. Paralysis from the neck down with almost no hope of recovering – that is what his doctors and parents told him.. Boesen had crashed his car against a lamp post and tree after the tires skid on a slippery road.

“I couldn’t drink, couldn’t feed myself, couldn’t text or pretty much do anything, I was basically just existing. I wasn’t living my life, I was existing”, the CIRM journal quoted Boesen.

But hope, they say, can move mountains and nothing else describes this adage better than Kristopher Boesen hoping to lead a somewhat more self-independent life. So the doctors suggested Boesen to consider a treatment that was still under trial but might prove to be successful eventually – treatment of paralysis with the help of stem cells.

How does paralysis occur?

Paralysis mostly occurs due to problems in the spinal cord. The spinal cord has a number of nerves and cells running through it that take directions from the brain to various parts of the body. Damage to this part of your body can cause partial/regional paralysis or sometimes, even death.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the basic cells of the body which are capable of developing into new cells in case of injury or damage to existing cells. For more information, refer to the link at the end of the article.

Dr. Liu explained to Boesen how stem cells are the basis of cell development when the body has to replace damaged or diseased cells. Losing no time, Boesen agreed to undertake the treatment even though Dr. Liu warned him that the process might just fail, resulting in absolutely nothing. “There’s nothing to lose”, said Boesen.

And thus, the preparations for the treatment were made by Asterias Biotherapeutics under their trial scope, funded by CIRM (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine). In April 2016, the first dose of stem cells was administered to Boesen. 10 million AST-OPC1 cells were directly injected into Boesen’s cervical spinal cord. AST-OPC1 cells come from donated eggs that are fertilized in-vitro (in a petri-dish).

In the past, as Dr. Liu points out, the spinal cord was operated on in cases of injury to minimize risk to life, but the chances of reversing motor or sensory damage were close to none. Now, with stem cells being administered to patients, the world of medical research was trying to improve the lives of patients who were coping with severe injuries to their spinal cord.

The procedure was a success – both personally and globally. Within two weeks, Boesen showed signs of movement. And within a couple of months, Boesen was already taking calls and operating his own wheelchair. The process did not just make sure that Boesen’s spinal cord injury was better but also helped bring back motor and sensory functions. He became the first paralyzed man to have shown such advanced recovery with the help of stem cell therapy.

In a report released by Asterias Biotherapeutics, they mentioned, “The therapy involves human embryonic stem cells that have been differentiated, or converted, into cells called oligodendrocyte progenitors. These are capable of becoming the kind of cells which help protect nerve cells in the central nervous system, the area damaged in spinal cord injury.”

Boesen said during recovery, “Now I have grip strength and do things like open a bottle of soda and feed myself. Whereas before I was relying on my parents, now after the stem cell therapy I am able to live my life.”

Boesen gained a lot of confidence post this surgery. The joy of being able to feed himself after months, the sense of freedom gained from not relying on his parents was extremely satisfying for him. He felt like he had been blessed with another life!

Almost all is well now. Though the doctors are not sure about further development in Kristopher Boesen’s movements and whether or not he will be able to walk, Dr. Liu and his team are giving in their best. They are continually trying to contribute to stem cell research and improve the chances of having a better life post such grave injuries to the spinal cord. He, along with associate faculty based in departments across KSOM and the University, is now fully dedicated to studying stem cell-driven new medicine. According to further research and latest reports, we know that stem cells can cure not just paralysis, but also diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes, and so on. Studies suggest that stem cell medicine can also be a cure for cancer.

With this success story, our belief in miracles has been restored. Although there is a lot of scientific research that contributed to the success of this critical operation, one cannot deny the existence of miracles. Boesen is indeed lucky to have become the first successful test subject of these trials. We hope and pray that he shows more improvement!

Stem Cell: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=what-are-stem-cells-160-38

Stem Cell Research (late developments): https://www.omicsonline.org/exploring-the-recent-advances-in-stem-cell-research-2157-7633.1000113.php?aid=2899