Thursday, August 14, 2014

News agency blows nosey headline

Excerpted from Woman Grows A Nose On Her Spine After Stem Cell Experiment,” Popular Science. July 18, 2014 — Eight years ago, doctors took nasal tissue samples and grafted them onto the spines of 20 quadriplegics. The idea was that stem cells within the nasal tissue might turn into neurons that could help repair the damaged spinal cord, and the experiment actually worked a few of the patients, who regained a little bit of sensation. But it didn’t go well for one woman in particular, who not only didn’t experience any abatement in her paralysis, but recently started feeling pain at the site of the implant. When doctors took a closer look, they realized she was growing the beginnings of a nose on her spine, New Scientist reports.

This is hardly the first case of adverse side effects from a stem cell transplant. The New Scientist article points to several cases where people developed tumors after participating in clinical trials—including one 50-year-old man who, after receiving an experimental treatment for Parkinson’s disease, developed a brain tumor with hairs and cartilage embedded within it.

The nasal tissue experiment took place at a mainstream hospital in Portugal, and there are thousands of legitimate stem cell trials taking place all over the world, but so far only a few stem cell therapies have been approved by the FDA. Stem cells have the potential to treat everything from baldness and diabetes to cardiovascular disease and Parkinson’s. But stem cells, some of which can differentiate into almost any cell in the body, also have the potential to cause harm.


Dr. David PrenticeCMDA Member and Senior Fellow for Family Research Council David Prentice, PhD: “It sounds funny—a woman grows a nose on her back or, as another reporter put it, on her spine. Coupled with the buzz term ‘stem cell,’ it ensures notice for the news outlet and reporter. But it’s neither funny nor true.

“The real story: a patient who received her own stem cells in an attempt to treat spinal cord injury had an adverse reaction eight years after treatment. While the cell mixture used didn’t produce tumors as has been seen with embryonic stem cells or fetal stem cells, some ectopic tissue differentiation occurred that pressed on her spinal cord, causing pain. Sadly, the surgeons who removed her partially-differentiated growth published their findings and went to the news media, rather than showing concern for other patients and contacting the doctors who did the spinal cord clinical trial. The older version of this approved clinical trial, which this patient received, has been the only treatment for chronic, complete spinal cord injury resulting in significant functional improvement, with a very low (less than 1 percent) incidence of complications, with more than 140 patients having received the treatment.

“The news of this one adverse event highlights the power of stem cells even years after transplant, the experimental nature of clinical trials and the risk inherent in such trials. Clinicians should be cognizant of all of these factors. Even approved clinical trials using ethically-sourced stem cells must be monitored carefully. The wise healthcare professional keeps concern for the patient first at all times.”


CMDA Ethics Statement – Human Stem Cell Research and Use
Scientific Demagoguery in the Stem Cell Wars by Dr. David Stevens

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