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Open Access Debate

What is the potential of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells to successfully treat human spinal cord injury?

Robert A Watson1* and Trevor M Yeung2

Author Affiliations

1 Green Templeton College, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6HG, UK

2 Stanford University School of Medicine, CCSR 3100, 269 Campus Drive, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

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BMC Neurology 2011, 11:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-11-113

Published: 23 September 2011



Spinal cord injury is a serious and debilitating condition, affecting millions of people worldwide. Long seen as a permanent injury, recent advances in stem cell research have brought closer the possibility of repairing the spinal cord. One such approach involves injecting oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, into the injured spinal cord in the hope that they will initiate repair. A phase I clinical trial of this therapy was started in mid 2010 and is currently underway.


The theory underlying this approach is that these myelinating progenitors will phenotypically replace myelin lost during injury whilst helping to promote a repair environment in the lesion. However, the importance of demyelination in the pathogenesis of human spinal cord injury is a contentious issue and a body of literature suggests that it is only a minor factor in the overall injury process.


This review examines the validity of the theory underpinning the on-going clinical trial as well as analysing published data from animal models and finally discussing issues surrounding safety and purity in order to assess the potential of this approach to successfully treat acute human spinal cord injury.