Repeated subarachnoid administrations of allogeneic human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells for spinal cord injury: a phase 1/2 pilot study

Cytotherapy. 2021 Jan;23(1):57-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jcyt.2020.09.012. Epub 2020 Nov 18.


Background aims: Stem cell transplantation is a potential treatment for intractable spinal cord injury (SCI), and allogeneic human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells (hUC-MSCs) are a promising candidate because of the advantages of immune privilege, paracrine effect, immunomodulatory function, convenient collection procedure and little ethical concern, and there is an urgent need to develop a safe and effective protocol regarding their clinical application.

Methods: A prospective, single-center, single-arm study in which subjects received four subarachnoid transplantations of hUC-MSCs (1 × 106 cells/kg) monthly and were seen in follow-up four times (1, 3, 6 and 12 months after final administration) was conducted. At each scheduled time point, safety and efficacy indicators were collected and analyzed accordingly. Adverse events (AEs) were used as a safety indicator. American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) and SCI Functional Rating Scale of the International Association of Neurorestoratology (IANR-SCIFRS) total scores at the fourth follow-up were determined as primary efficacy outcomes, whereas these two indicators at the remaining time points as well as scores of pinprick, light touch, motor and sphincter, muscle spasticity and spasm, autonomic system, bladder and bowel functions, residual urine volume (RUV) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were secondary efficacy outcomes. Subgroup analysis of primary efficacy indicators was also performed.

Results: Safety and efficacy assessments were performed on 102 and 41 subjects, respectively. Mild AEs involving fever (14.1%), headache (4.2%), transient increase in muscle tension (1.6%) and dizziness (1.3%) were observed following hUC-MSC transplantation and resolved thoroughly after conservative treatments. There was no serious AE. ASIA and IANR-SCIFRS total scores revealed statistical increases when compared with the baselines at different time points during the study, mainly reflected in the improvement of pinprick, light touch, motor and sphincter scores. Moreover, subjects showed a continuous and remarkable decrease in muscle spasticity. Regarding muscle spasm, autonomic system, bladder and bowel functions, RUV and MRI, data/imaging at final follow-up showed significant improvements compared with those at first collection. Subgroup analysis found that hUC-MSC transplantation improved neurological functions regardless of injury characteristics, including level, severity and chronicity.

Conclusions: The authors' present protocol demonstrates that intrathecal administration of' allogeneic hUC-MSCs at a dose of 106 cells/kg once a month for 4 months is safe and effective and leads to significant improvement in neurological dysfunction and recovery of quality of life.

Keywords: clinical trial; efficacy; human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell; safety; spinal cord injury; subarachnoid transplantation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation / methods
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Subarachnoid Space / physiopathology
  • Umbilical Cord / cytology*
  • Young Adult


  • Immunologic Factors