Rehabilitation outcomes following autologous human stem cell transplantation in a chronic complete C4 tetraplegic – the first 12 months: A case report

Linda Elizabeth Hiemstra, Liandi Terblanche, Basil Adriaanse


Autologous Human Stem Cell Transplantation (AHESC) is emerging as one of several promising new cell-based treatments for chronic spinal cord injury (SCI). Since chronic SCI is generally deemed irreversible, treatment paradigms for post-intervention rehabilitation after many years of disability are limited, and a description of the impact of such intervention on the patients is hard to find. Here we describe, for the first time, the multi-disciplinary post-operative rehabilitation and outcome of a patient with chronic cervical SCI after autologous human embryonic stem cell transplant. We include the anatomical, physiological, functional and quality of life outcomes.

Methods: A 33 year old male, American Spinal cord Injury Association (ASIA) Grade A, C4 chronic SCI patient received glial scar resection and Autologous Human Embryonic Stem Cell (AHESC) transplant, 6 years after injury, and thereafter had intensive interdisciplinary rehabilitation comprising occupational-, biokinetic- and physiotherapy, for an average of 17 hours per week over the course of 12 months. Outcomes were measured with standardised outcome measures of physiological improvement, increased independence, and a questionnaire was designed to gain understanding of the changes in quality of life and well-being of the patient, from his perspective.


Results: The patient progressed from ASIA Grade A to ASIA Grade C, over the first 12 post-operative months. Sensory recovery comprised awareness of deep pressure and light touch in all dermatomes, with accurate localisation to L1. Motor activation was restored to all major muscle groups of the right upper limb, and to a lesser extent in the left upper limb, with some recovery in thoracic, abdominal and spinal muscles. Gains have been made in areas of motor, sensory and vascular function, self-care, wheelchair use and safety, and leisure participation. The patient has found these changes meaningful in terms of quality of life.

Conclusion: Regenerative medicine approaches may create rehabilitation potential where none formerly existed, presenting unprecedented challenges to rehabilitation therapists. Our experience demonstrates the value of intensive multi-disciplinary rehabilitation programmes in this setting, and provides a template for functional restoration and retraining after many years of chronic disability. It also emphasises the need to debate the ethical questions surrounding the application of such interventions and highlights the impact that participation in rehabilitation can have on a patient’s perception of quality of life and health status.

Keywords: Human therapeutic cloning, autologous human embryonic stem cells, spinal cord, spinal cord injury, quadriplegia,  motor rehabilitation, motor retraining, mirror therapy, quality of life.

* Louis is a pseudonym, used to protect the patient’s identity.

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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