Spinal cord research

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Confined to a wheelchair for life, that's the fate of many of the 12,000 people who suffer traumatic spinal cord injuries in the United States every year.

But now, a one of a kind trial could change the face of spinal cord research forever.

Marc Bouniconti's football collision paralyzed him from the neck down. "Next thing I know, I went from the best shape of my life to fighting for my life in a split second."

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 FDA has approved a trial to evaluate the safety of Schwann cells, cells responsible for sending electrical signals throughout the nervous system. "The vision is that can we use these cells that normally function in the peripheral nervous system to repair the central nervous system," says Dalton Dietrich, III, Ph.D. Scientific Director 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, will we, until what we can accomplish until we do this experiment in man."

While he's not taking part in the trial, Marc hopes one day it will help him. "Science can do more than build a wheelchair, we can, we can find a cure."

The trial will help develop future studies targeting different types of injuries and therapeutic combinations. Doctor Dietrich says the study could take about three to four years to complete.