I have to admit that my first response to these reports out of Britain that stem cells had been successfully used to repair a complete spinal cord transection was skepticism — incredulity even. They’re reporting that a man with a completely severed spinal cord at level T10-T11 is able to walk again! The Guardian gushes! The Daily Mail gets in the act (always a bad sign)! When I read that the patient had an 8mm gap in his spinal cord that had been filling up with scar tissue for the last two years, I was even more doubtful: under the best of conditions, it was unlikely that you’d get substantial connectivity across that distance.
So I read the paper. I’m less skeptical now, for a couple of reasons. They actually did this experiment on 3 people, and all showed degrees of improvement, although the newspapers are all focusing on just the one who had the greatest change. The gradual changes are all documented thoroughly and believably. And, sad to say, the improvements in the man’s motor and sensory ability are more limited and more realistic than most of the accounts would have you think.