Recently, I happily learned about another step we are taking to make the United States a place that is ready to move forward in embracing stem-cell therapy.

Ryan Benton is a 28-year-old Kansas man who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a progressive disease impacting 1 in 3,600 boys resulting in muscular degeneration and, eventually, death.

Although he’s spent most of his life in a wheelchair, Ryan has beat the odds so far. And with a little luck and newly improved access to a cutting-edge medical treatment, he’ll beat the odds for many more years.

In 2007, Ryan and his family flew to South America to see Dr. Neil Riordan and his team at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama for a specific type of stem cell therapy.  Ryan received injections of mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in umbilical cords. The hope is that these injections will help stimulate muscle growth.

But, as you can imagine, Ryan’s family was hindered in how many treatments their son could receive because the procedure was not approved for use in the United States. They had to travel to Panama over the years to have the treatments. Ryan’s family say his condition was improving, but Dr. Riordan thought he could see even better results with more regular treatments.

So the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did something many of us who believe in stem cell injection therapy have applauded. Working with Dr. Van Strickland, an allergy and immunology specialists in Wichita, Dr. Riordan successfully got permission from the FDA to allow Ryan to receive mesenchymal stem cell injections at home.

Ryan is the only patient in the country allowed to have these treatments for now. It’s the first time anyone in the United States has been approved to receive this type of stem cell therapy.  Over the next three years, Ryan is expected to receive 24 injections of mesenchymal stem cells.

It’s a historic moment, and one that hopefully will lead to more widely accepted use of stem cell therapy. Ryan summed up the hopes of so many when he made this statement to KWCH TV news in Wichita:

“I want so badly for every parent, once their kid is diagnosed with a disease like mine, to be able to just go get treated,” he said. “It would be something that 20 years later the kid says to the parent, ‘Didn’t I have muscular dystrophy when I was younger?’ The parent would say ‘Ya, you did, but we got it treated.’ That would be amazing to me.”

Amazing is right. We’ll be watching closely for the next step.

Dr. Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at