Breakthrough Development from Stem Cell Clinical Trial at Mayo Clinic: Surfer with Debilitating Spinal Cord Injury Walking Again

Dec 4, 2019 | Leading Sites, News, Positive Results, Regenerative Medicine, Site Success, Site Watch, Spinal Cord Injury, Stem Cell Therapy

Breakthrough Development from Stem Cell Clinical Trial at Mayo Clinic: Surfer with Debilitating Spinal Cord Injury Walking Again

Chris Barr met the ultimate life-changing tragedy when he was involved with a surfing accident permanently damaging his spinal cord. He thought he would never walk again—the “prognosis was bad,” noted Barr in a recent ABC Good Morning America interview. Things felt so bleak that he even contemplated the ending of his life. A phone call from the Mayo Clinic was the first day of the rest of his life.

A Call: Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Barr’s prognosis was in fact not good. Odds were highly against him ever walking again. After participating in intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation, limited results followed. Perhaps the only thing that kept him going at points in time was the loving support of his wife Debbie.

Then, out of the blue, a Dr. Mohamad Bydon, a neurosurgeon with the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, MN called to informed Barr of a new clinical trial centering on patients such as himself-with spinal cord injuries. Barr signed up as “he had nothing to lose.” According to his interview, “I mean, this is exactly why I stuck around was to do something.” Indeed something was now to do.

In fact, he was not the first patient to participate in a clinical trial involving an experimental stem cell procedure—stem cells were taken from his own body fat while the investigators expanded these cells in a laboratory, and then injected them back into Barr’s lumbar spine.

The Clinical Trial at Mayo Clinic

As a phase I multidisciplinary clinical trial, the study tests the safety, side effects and ideal dose of stem cells. Early trial findings show that patient response varies. The Mayo team plans to continue analyzing patient responses, and further results will be published on the other nine trial participants.

The study enrolled 10 adults to treat paralysis from traumatic spinal cord injury. After stem cell injection, the first patient (Mr. Barr) demonstrated improvement in motor and sensory functions and had no significant adverse events, as reported in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Barr’s story can be viewed here

A Breakthrough

The results are notable—so much so that they are being discussed as a potential breakthrough development in the field of regenerative medicine.  Why? Well, in just a short period of time, Barr’s motor and sensory functions showed improvement. In fact, Barr now can start to regain feeling in his legs—again this was the same person who wasn’t expected to walk again. Barr is now walking.

Barr noted via the Mayo Clinic News Network, “I can’t say it enough times that the stem-cell regimen and protocol offers hope”


The study was funded by grants from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota and Mayo Clinic Transform the Practice and by Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine

Cell Product

Cell product was developed and manufactured in the Mayo Clinic Immune, Progenitor and Cell Therapeutics (IMPACT) Lab directed by Dr. Allan B Dietz


Further study will be required for investigators at Mayo to understand what other patients may benefit from this course of treatment and why some patients respond differently that others to the injections. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer spinal cord injuries per year and these results, although still experimental in nature, offer incredible optimism and hope based on the power of regenerative medicine potential. Dr. Bydon notes, “The hope is that we will have novel treatments for spinal cord injuries in the coming years that will be different from what we have today.” He continued, “These will be therapies that do not rely upon supportive care, but therapies that rely on science to create a regenerative process for the spinal cord.”

Mayo reports further study is required to scientifically verify and validate the effectiveness of stem cell therapy for paralysis from spinal cord injury.  It is uncertain, they report, if this procedure will ever have FDA approval for routine clinical care.

Lead Research/Investigator

Mohamad M. Bydon, Neurosurgery

Mayo Clinic Wenchun Qu, MD, PhD, psychiatrist and pain specialist, Mayo Clinic

Call to Action: If you or a loved one have a debilitating spinal cord injury, it could make sense to monitor the stem cell therapy research coming out of Mayo Clinic (and other research institutions). TrialSite News will monitor carefully.

Source: Mayo Clinic


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