Stem cells are “blank slate” cells with the ability to become several kinds of different cells in the body. In theory, these cells can replace or repair damaged tissues. For example, if injected into a person’s spinal cord, the stem cells might produce spinal cord cells.

So promising is this research that the Keck School of Medicine of USC established the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine to study how the body’s own developmental and repair mechanisms can restore damaged cells, tissues and organs — laying the foundation for regenerative medicine treatments for human diseases. The Keck School also launched a university-wide USC Stem Cell initiative to bring together tissue engineers, developmental biologists, geneticists and clinicians collaborating on stem cell research.

Who could benefit from stem cell treatments?

Stem cell-based therapies could help many different types of patients in the next decades, including those with osteoarthritis, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, dry age-related macular degeneration and immune system damage due to chemotherapy.

Ongoing stem cell clinical trials at USC?

There are several ongoing clinical trials to test the effectiveness of stem cell treatments.

For example, as part of a 2016 clinical trial sponsored by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Asterias Biotherapeutics, neurologist Charles Liu, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, injected an experimental treatment made from stem cells into a paralyzed patient’s spinal cord. Within months, the patient could write his name and feed himself.

The study is not complete, and the treatment is not standard therapy. But the promising results prompted researchers to extend the treatment to people with less-severe spinal injuries who would have been too risky to include in initial tests.

By Heidi Tyline King

If you are interested in learning more about stem cell therapy at Keck Medicine of USC and are located in Southern California, contact the USC Neurorestoration Center or schedule an appointment by calling (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting neuro.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.