At 22, Lucas Linder was running an errand for his grandmother near his home in Eden Wisconsin. On the rural roads, Linder swerved to avoid hitting a deer. His truck’s tire blew out, and the vehicle rolled several times, throwing Lucas from the window. His spinal cord was damaged, and he fell into a coma.
In a matter of seconds, the trauma left him a quadriplegic, paralyzed in his arms and legs.
When he regained consciousness in the hospital, he discovered he could only move his face and, to a much lesser extent, parts of his shoulders and arms. He was told that he had a 1% chance of recovery—an impossible, hopeless dream, as he thought at the time.
But in a strange twist of fate, Lucas’s terrible accident happened at a fortuitous moment, making that dream a little more likely.
At that time, Asterias Biotherapeutics was looking for patients like Lucas, people who had suffered major injuries to their spinal cords. And the company needed people fast to join a new clinical trial.
Lucas enrolled in Asterias Biotherapeutics’ CIRM-funded stem cell trial for spinal cord injury at Medical College of Wisconsin. The second person nationally to participate in the treatment, Lucas received a dose of 10 million AST-OPC1 cells, injected a few inches below the base of his neck, the center of his spinal cord injury.
Over the next weeks, the cells began to mature and restore nerve signaling in the frayed spinal cord nerve cells. By the end of the trial, Lucas regained the ability to use his arms, hands, and fingers.
Dr. Shekar Kurpad, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, explains:
“You can assemble 10 million cells into the size of something that is half the size of a raindrop,” though the amount of difference the cells have made in Lucas’s life is immeasurable.
A year since his accident, Lucas now has recovered near complete motility in his fingers—enough to write and use the phone, to begin recovering ways he lived before the accident. Looking back, Lucas says he can only describe it as a miracle.
In July, Lucas was invited to the pitcher’s mound at Miller Park. Cheered by fans, Lucas threw the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game.
Lucas has seen—and is living—the difference that stem cell research can offer. He explains how he thinks about the future of stem cell research as “limitless,” and he likes to imagine that future for others who have been touched by disease or injury, that the day when science can bring them cures is coming, and it’s closer than ever.