Photo/Illutration Keio University Hospital in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In a world first, doctors have used induced pluripotent stem cells to treat a spinal cord injury, Keio University announced on Jan. 14, offering hope for paralyzed patients. 

A team of researchers at the university successfully transplanted neural progenitor cells derived from iPS cells into a patient with a severe spinal cord injury as part of a clinical study, university officials said.

The team says that the patient is doing well. Over the next year, they will see how safe and effective the treatment is, while the patient undergoes rehabilitation.

The treatment is designed for patients with “complete paralysis” who are in the subacute phase, which is within two to four weeks of sustaining a spinal cord injury. Complete paralysis is when people have lost motor or sensory functions after becoming injured.

The researchers transplanted 2 million neural progenitor cells derived from other people’s iPS cells to where the patient was injured. The researchers used iPS cells stockpiled by Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application.

So far, rehabilitation offers the only effective treatment for a spinal cord injury.

But the team believes that the transplanted cells will be effective at repairing damaged neural circuits and creating new tissue that can transmit signals from the brain.

The team plans to transplant the neural progenitor cells derived from iPS cells into four patients with spinal cord injuries.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare approved this clinical trial in February 2019. However, the process of finding suitable patients was postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.