On 18 November, Richard Grosjean became the first patient to receive a pioneering stem cell treatment in the upper part of the spinal cord. His procedure is part of an ongoing US-based clinical trial to assess the safety of injecting embryonic stem cells into the spinal cords of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
ALS is a type of motor neurone disease also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease and Maladie de Charcot. It is a late-onset condition affecting roughly one in 50,000 people. Cambridge physics professor Stephen Hawking is perhaps the best-known ALS patient in the UK.
Mr Grosjean's operation took four hours and included five injections to the cervical region of the spine, which runs from the head to the shoulders. Each injection consists of more than 100,000 stem cells. The treatment was developed by NeuralStem, a US biotech company, and uses embryonic stem cells extracted from the spinal cord of an aborted eight-week-old fetus.
Dr Eva Feldman, director of research of the ALS Clinic at the University of Michigan Health System, who designed the trial, explained: 'The ultimate goal of transplanting cells into this region is to preserve or even enhance breathing capacity for the patients. This treatment is essential to improve the quality of ALS patient lives and potentially lengthen them'.