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Top Docs 2014: A First in Stem Cell Science at UCSD


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Photography by Howard Lipin / U-T San Diego / Zuma Press

Neurosurgeon Joseph Ciacci operates on spinal cord patients ranging from young people who’ve suffered horrific car accidents to veterans paralyzed on the battlefield. The UC San Diego Health System doctor helps reconstruct their spines. But modern medicine has scant options for paraplegics who can no longer walk. That’s why Ciacci is excited to lead a clinical trial at UC San Diego in which doctors will inject neural stem cells into patients with chronic spinal injuries. They’ll use a new mechanically designed guidance system that allows greater precision in administering human-derived embryonic stem cells directly into the spinal cord.

"Seeing these people, how strong they become, how resilient they are, how hard they try after their injuries, I want to be able to do more."

“It' s super exciting, I have to admit,” says Ciacci, UC San Diego neurosurgeon and principal investigator for the study. “Seeing these people, how strong they become, how resilient they are, how hard they try after their injuries, I want to be able to do more. Hopefully we will be able to add something to the treatment that spinal cord patients get.”

Hundreds of people from around the world have contacted UC San Diego about the study. For now, Ciacci says they’re recruiting eight patients to determine if the treatment is safe. In animal studies, rats showed significant improvement in their ability to move and feel.

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