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stem_cells_promise_vs_peril

stem_cells_promise_vs_peril - SCIAM.COM 01:30 PM in Mind...

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SCIAM.COM Feb 19, 2009 01:30 PM in Mind & Brain | 1 comments | Post a comment Fetal stem cells cause tumor in a teenage boy By Coco Ballantyne in 60-Second Science Blog In May 2001, Israeli parents of a nine-year old boy with a crippling disease that left him wheelchair-bound took their child to see doctors in Moscow. In a highly experimental procedure that was presumably unavailable in their home country, those doctors injected fetal stem cells into various regions of his brain. The boy’s parents—they aren’t named in a report describing the case in this week’s PLoS Medicine —must have been desperate. The nine-year old suffered from ataxia- telangiectasia , a childhood disease that causes degeneration of parts of the brain that control muscle movements and speech. The symptoms include slurred speech, poor balance, impaired immune function, and the appearance of red spider veins called telangiectasias in the eyes, ears or cheeks. There are no treatments for the disorder and the prognosis is dim; patients usually only make it into their teens or early twenties, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke . While it's unclear exactly what the Russian doctors were trying to achieve (the researchers who wrote the case report were not involved in the stem cell therapy), they must have been hoping that the injected cells would restore some function in his brain, or at least slow the disease progression. The boy went back for injections in 2002 and 2004, although it's not clear from the report whether his condition improved as a result. Then he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005. That tumor, it turns out, grew out of the stem cells, obtained from at least two aborted fetuses, used in his brain. The tumor was benign, doctors safely removed it, and it has gradually been growing back since the surgery. But this is the first-known case of a brain tumor caused by a brain stem cell therapy, according to the report—a phenomenon scientists have predicted in the pages of Scientific American and elsewhere. The theory is that because these stem cells are fetal cells, they are designed to proliferate and give rise to new tissue, which means they have the potential to produce tumors. The case, write the authors of this week’s case study, should serve as a warning that more research is needed to gauge the safety of these novel therapies.
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