Trial gives hope to spinal victims
Twenty locals suffering from spinal cord injuries will join the first phase of a clinical trial for a revolutionary treatment, beginning this month at the University of Hong Kong.
Wise Young, who treated the late actor Christopher Reeve and is a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is leading the quest for a treatment of spinal cord injuries following encouraging laboratory results.
The therapy, which uses lithium, a drug used for treating bipolar disorders, and stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood, is based on discoveries by Hong Kong scientists.
Professor Young, who has been appointed a visiting distinguished professor at the University of Hong Kong, said yesterday the first phase of the clinical trial would involve 20 patients, some being given lithium and others a placebo to test the drug's safety. Patients are undergoing screening for the clinical trial.
The team was discussing a second, small clinical trial on the mainland, using only stem cells from umbilical cord blood, he said.
If the phases go smoothly, the team will go to a large, phase three trial looking at randomised stem-cell transplants and lithium treatments.
Professor Young is leading a network of doctors and scientists from 17 centres in Hong Kong, on the mainland and in the US.
He plans to test whether lithium and stem cells will help speed up regeneration of damaged spinal cords.
The University of Hong Kong's Clinical Trial Centre is the network's co-ordinating centre, while the university's Spinal Cord Injury Fund is the initial umbrella organisation for fund-raising efforts.
About 3 million people worldwide with spinal cord injuries are hoping that a cure will be found. The injuries are permanent and often cause serious disabilities.
Professor Young yesterday gave a talk on stem-cell research and the loss of public trust.
'If Hong Kong decides to invest in stem-cell research, there must be a way to educate people concerning both the good and bad aspects of stem-cell research,' he said.
Professor Young played a 'pivotal role' in 2004 in the passage of legislative bills in New Jersey to secure funding of US$10 million a year for stem-cell research, the first US state to do so.
Another US$300 million in funding would soon be passed by New Jersey, he predicted, despite US President George W. Bush's decision to restrict federal funds for research.