Paralysed rugby star urges medics to seize on stem cell progress

Former Scotland under-21 rugby internationalist David Millar
Former Scotland under-21 rugby internationalist David Millar
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A FORMER rugby player whose spine was snapped during a match is hoping that a US scientist at the forefront of stem cell research will convince Edinburgh medics to begin similar work which could one day enable him to walk again.

David Millar, who lost the use of his legs after his accident 21 years ago, has raised thousands of pounds for the work of California-based Dr Hans Keirstead.

Now the 44-year-old has brought Dr Keirstead to the Capital and tomorrow he will lecture doctors and scientists on the “holy grail” of medical advances.

Mr Millar said: “There is a lot of research being done in Edinburgh into stem cells with regards to motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis, and there is interest in dovetailing this with research into spinal cord injuries. Dr Keirstead is one of the leading experts in spinal repair, and he will tell us about the latest stage of his trials. He’s now treating people with stem cells.

“For some reason, the US is more advanced in this area than the UK, so it will be of great benefit to hear about his work. I am really hoping that things will come from this.”

Mr Millar, who played for West of Scotland and Scotland under-21s before his injury, added: “Most people still believe that once you’ve injured your spine there’s nothing that can be done, however, Dr Keirstead will tell us what the latest treatments are. There has been significant progress made in the last five to ten years. People talk about when treatments are available now, rather than if.

“I am particularly interested in getting the rugby community interested in this. It’s one of the most dangerous sports in terms of this kind of injury so it would be good for the sport to become more involved in helping those injured in this way. The Scottish Rugby Union has been very supportive so far.”

Last year Mr Millar, who is now a neuropsychologist in Newcastle, undertook a 250-mile handcycle in New Zealand to raise money for spinal cord repair. The challenge, he says, “led to a continued commitment with a group of friends to raise awareness around the developments in the area of spinal cord repair”.

Former Scottish rugby captain Gary Callander is also supporting Mr Millar’s push for more research.

“Rugby is one of those sports which cannot be made completely safe,” said Mr Millar. “There will always be injuries. I don’t believe there have been more of this kind of injury, but a few years ago there was a definite spate of them.”

Mr Millar added that although he’s been in a wheelchair for more than 20 years he still hopes that stem cells might one day enable him to walk again. “The current work being done is on those who have just been injured, the next phase of Dr Keirstead’s research will be into a treatment which can help or give some improvement to those who have chronic injuries. Hopefully there’s some potential for that.”

Dr Keirstead will be presenting his lecture at the President’s Suite, Murrayfield Rugby Stadium tomorrow at 4pm. Anyone interested in attending should contact David Millar on david.millar14@btinternet.com

gina.davidson@edinburghnews.com