A panel at Keio University in Japan has approved in principal clinical trials which involve transplanting induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, in patients who have lost mobility due to spinal cord injuries.
The iPS cells can be used to create cells that replicate different kinds of human tissue.
The university's professors Hideyuki Okano and Masaya Nakamura will lead the trials. They plan to transplant about 2-million cells derived from human iPS cells into patients with spinal cord injuries.
Their aim is to have the transplanted cells develop into neurons that will transmit signals from the brain to restore movement to the patients' arms and legs.
The screening panel at the university is expected to issue official approval for the tests as early as next month. Then the group will apply for government approval. The application of iPS cells to spinal cord injuries is said to be unprecedented.
About 5,000 people each year lose control of their limbs and other functions in Japan from spinal injuries, often in traffic and sports accidents. There are no known effective treatments.
In Japan, regenerative medicine using iPS cells is being tested by scientists at the Riken research lab on patients with serious eye disease. A group from Kyoto University is also working with subjects who have Parkinson's disease.