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Joshua D. Burks, Katie L. Gant, James D. Guest, Aria G. Jamshidi, Efrem M. Cox, Kim D. Anderson, W. Dalton Dietrich, Mary Bartlett Bunge, Barth A. Green, Aisha Khan, Damien D. Pearse, Efrat Saraf-Lavi, and Allan D. Levi


In cell transplantation trials for spinal cord injury (SCI), quantifiable imaging criteria that serve as inclusion criteria are important in trial design. The authors’ institutional experience has demonstrated an overall high rate of screen failures. The authors examined the causes for trial exclusion in a phase I, open-lab clinical trial examining the role of autologous Schwann cell intramedullary transplantation. Specifically, they reviewed the imaging characteristics in people with chronic SCI that excluded applicants from the trial, as this was a common cause of screening failures in their study.


The authors reviewed MRI records from 152 people with chronic (> 1 year) SCI who volunteered for intralesional Schwann cell transplantation but were deemed ineligible by prospectively defined criteria. Rostral-caudal injury lesion length was measured along the long axis of the spinal cord in the sagittal plane on T2-weighted MRI. Other lesion characteristics, specifically those pertaining to lesion cavity structure resulting in trial exclusion, were recorded.


Imaging records from 152 potential participants with chronic SCI were reviewed, 42 with thoracic-level SCI and 110 with cervical-level SCI. Twenty-three individuals (55%) with thoracic SCI and 70 (64%) with cervical SCI were not enrolled in the trial based on imaging characteristics. For potential participants with thoracic injuries who did not meet the screening criteria for enrollment, the average rostral-caudal sagittal lesion length was 50 mm (SD 41 mm). In applicants with cervical injuries who did not meet the screening criteria for enrollment, the average sagittal lesion length was 34 mm (SD 21 mm).


While screening people with SCI for participation in a cell transplantation clinical trial, lesion length or volume can exclude potential subjects who appear appropriate candidates based on neurological eligibility criteria. In planning future cell-based therapy trials, the limitations incurred by lesion size should be considered early due to the screening burden and impact on candidate selection.