Paralyzed man who can walk again shows potential benefits of stem cell therapy

A man paralyzed from the neck down after a surfing accident seven years ago can now stand and walk independently again, thanks in part to a potentially game-changing stem cell treatment.

Chris Barr was the very first patient in one Mayo Clinic study who collected stem cells from his own abdominal fat, expanded them to 100 million cells in a laboratory, and then injected the cells into Barr’s lumbar spine.

More than five years after therapy, Barr said he continues to become more independent and able to walk faster.

Chris Barr was able to walk again after undergoing stem cell treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Chris Barr was able to walk again after undergoing stem cell treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Courtesy of Chris Barr/Mayo Clinic

“I never thought I would recover like this,” Barr told ABC News’ Will Reeve. “I can feed myself. I can walk around. I can do everyday independent activities.”

Barr gave Reeve an update on his own progress as the Mayo Clinic released new data showing the success of the stem cell treatment in a clinical trial involving 10 patients, including Barr.

This emerges from the results of the trial, which were published on Monday in the Nature Communications magazineSeven of the ten patients experienced increased strength in the motor muscle groups and an increased sensation of pinpricks and light touch.

According to the Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minnesota, three patients in the study did not respond to stem cell therapy, meaning they got neither better nor worse.

“These results give us hope for the future,” said Dr. Mohamad Bydon, a spinal cord researcher at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study, said of Reeve, who is also director of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to healing.” Spinal cord injury,” the website states. The foundation, named in honor of Will Reeves’ late father, was not involved in funding Bydon’s research.

Chris Barr talks to ABC News’ Will Reeve about the progress he’s made recovering from paralysis through the use of stem cells.

ABC News

Bydon’s research at Mayo Clinic is a Phase 1 trial that began in 2018.

The study’s newly published results show that of the seven patients who improved after stem cell therapy, each rose at least one level on the American Spinal Injury Association’s Impairment Scale – or ASIA – the five levels used to document patients includes ‘ function.

“This study shows us that stem cells are safe and potentially useful in treating spinal cord injuries,” Bydon said. “This can be a milestone in our field of neurosurgery, neuroscience and the treatment of patients with spinal cord injuries.”

There is currently no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment for spinal cord injuries.

Bydon and other researchers are still trying to understand how and why the stem cells interact with the spinal cord, leading to progress in some patients, and further research is underway in a larger group of people to further assess risks and benefits.

In Barr’s case, he Reeve said in 2019 After undergoing the stem cell treatment, he quickly noticed improvements, such as regaining feeling in his legs.

Now, five years later, he described further long-term improvements, such as the ability to walk at regular intervals.

“I’m just thrilled that there are people taking bold steps and doing research to fix this problem,” Barr said. “It’s been a wild ride and it’s not over yet.”

Dr. ABC News Medical Unit member Priscilla Koirala contributed to this report.

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