Chinese doctors carry out groundbreaking spinal cord surgery

World Today

Spinal cord injuries remain one of the most challenging medical problems to treat, but a new ground-breaking surgery has been carried out in China. The regenerative stem cell treatment follows more than 10 years of research by Chinese scientists.  CCTV’s Li Quiyuan reported the story.

Four hours of surgery in China’s northern city of Tianjin were performed on a paralyzed man. The man had become paralyzed in his lower body after he was involved in a traffic accident two months ago.

The doctors treating him implanted stem cells into his spinal column, using regenerative nerve material developed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It’s the first time regenerative spinal cord surgery has been attempted anywhere in the world.

“A scar was formed in the first surgery to occupy the entire damaged part of the spine. We then cut it out, about 2.8 centimeters in size, and replaced it with a tube containing stem cells,” Tang Fengwu of the China Police Neurological Hospital said.

Major spinal injuries nearly always lead to paralysis below the level of the injury. Doctors and scientists around the world for years have been trying to find new ways to treat the problem.

The Institute of Genetics and Development at the Chinese Academy of Sciences began experiments with animals 10 years ago. The institute started with mice, and then progressed to bigger animals like dogs. The experiments were successful and gave scientists more confidence to attempt the procedure on humans.

“Spinal nerves are like a cable. So we’ve designed collagenous fibers, like a bridge or a rail, that nerves can crawl along as they grow,” Dai Jianwu, a research fellow at the institute said. “Stem cells can produce regenerative tissue elements, so they improve the regeneration capacity of the wounded area.”

Doctors said the four-hour surgery went smoothly on Friday. Now, the patient’s family continues to wait and hope for positive results.

“We have a large family to raise. I hope he can feel his legs again as soon as possible,” the patient’s wife said. “I’ll be very happy if he can stand up one day, even if he can only walk one tenth the distance we do.”

Another six spinal cord injury patients are set to take the groundbreaking surgery.