A paralysed Australian man hopes a controversial embryonic stem cell treatment he is undergoing in India will help him walk again. Quadriplegic Perry Cross credits the treatment – which is banned in Australia and most Western countries – with allowing him to breathe on his own for the first time in 14 years.
Within weeks of starting his treatment in March, Cross was also able to sit unaided for short periods of time. The Queenslander was paralysed when he broke his neck during a rugby union match in 1994, when he was 19. He plans to continue having the stem cell injections, and hopes that one day they will help him walk again.
“I’ve been in a stable condition ever since I left hospital in 1994 and I came here in March to receive treatment and in April I started to breathe,” he told Sky News in Britain. “So I put it down to the treatment. Nothing else has happened in the meantime that I know of. “I’ve received a bit of improvement in my arms already and my legs a little bit, so I’m hopeful when I come back, probably at the end of the year, I’ll hopefully receive more improvement.
“You know, you put your lottery numbers in every week and I feel by coming here, my lottery numbers have finally come up.”
Cross’ doctor Geeta Shroff has been criticised by some medical professionals who claim she has not published papers about her research or revealed how she uses the stem cells. But Dr Shroff, who has treated about 500 patients in India, defended her research, saying she had taken out a patent to protect her work and published it on the internet. For Cross, she injected stem cells derived from a “throwaway” embryo developed during an IVF cycle for a woman who had given her “full consent” to Dr Shroff’s research.
Dr Shroff said she was confident it was the stem cells that had begun repairing the damage to Cross’s spinal cord and allowed him to finally breathe on his own and sit unaided. “Today he is breathing within eight weeks of starting treatment,” she told Sky News. “No rehab can allow for a person to breathe on their own if their lungs are not working, if their spinal cord is not working.
“So if it has happened eight weeks after the stem cells (being injected), then obviously it is the human embryonic stem cells that is working.”
Dr Shroff said she hoped her technology would be made available around the world to patients suffering from incurable diseases and terminal conditions. “I believe this would change medicine, it is the beginning of a new era in medicine,” she said.
Since his accident in 1994, Cross has become one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in Australia. The Queenslander set up the Perry X Foundation three years ago to provide support for researchers trying to find a cure for paralysis. He has also advised the United Nations and worked with the late Superman star Christopher Reeve, who was paralysed after a horse riding accident, and became the actor’s stem cell ambassador in Australia.