Operation marks another step forward in stem cell research

Dr. Nicholas Boulis adjusts the device that injects stem cells into the cervical area of the spinal cord.

Story highlights

  • For the first time, stem cells are injected into the spinal cord in the neck
  • It is part of a trial to see if the procedure can be safely done
  • "I feel like we finally arrived," says the surgeon who invented a key structure
A 50-year-old man from Trion, Georgia, is the first person to be injected with stem cells in the upper part of the spinal cord, making him yet another pioneer in the scientific quest to use stem cells to heal.
Richard Grosjean received the treatment Friday. He is part of an ongoing FDA-approved clinical trial that is testing the safety of injecting stem cells into the spinal cords of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Grosjean's ALS was diagnosed a little over two years ago, his wife, Tracie, told CNN. He can still walk with a cane, but he has a lot of weakness on his left side and has trouble with his speech.
ALS patient Richard Grosjean, the first patient in an approved clinical trial to have stem cells injected into the cervical area of the spinal cord.
"I'm pretty much his voice for him," Tracie Grosjean said.
Through his wife, Grosjean says "he has 100% confidence in Emory and Dr. (Jonathan) Glass and Dr. (Nicholas) Boulis and the good Lord that good things will come" from the trial.
While the Grosjeans know this procedure is likely to be more helpful to others in the future who have to deal with this "horrible disease," they have hope and faith that some good will come of this for them, too. In addition to praising Emory University, Tracie also praises her husband's employer, Mount Vernon Mills, which she says has "bent over backwards" to keep him employed throughout his illness giving him a sense of purpose.
The cause of ALS is unknown, but the disease is fatal because nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain and spinal cord needed to tell muscles to move, waste away or die. Early in the disease, patients have difficulty speaking and walking, both symptoms Grosjean now has. Eventually, the disease cuts off communication between the brain and chest muscles, so patients can no longer breathe.
Most people die from respiratory failure, according the National Institutes