After spending the early 1970s studying regeneration in the Xenopus frog tadpole's optic nerve, Paul J. Reier began to ponder how mammalian spinal cord injuries (SCIs) might heal. Eventually, the junior professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine chose to enter an emerging field: fetal cell transplantation into the spinal cord. A colleague called the career move crazy--a judgment that Reier now admits wasn't totally unwarranted. "The spinal cord injury field was clouded by pessimism," he explains. "Everything you saw clinically didn't look very promising, and experimentally there were no indications of anything very spectacular on the horizon."

Fast-forward two decades: Reier, now a neuroscience professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, is helping oversee a pioneering clinical trial in which eight SCI patients have received transplants of spinal cord tissue from human fetuses. Papers about the trial have just been published.1,2 In...

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