11 December 2006
ByAppeared in BioNews 388
By Heidi Nicholl:
British researchers have applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permission to begin human trials on stroke patients using stem cells derived from human fetal tissue. Biotech company ReNeuron, based in Guildford, Surrey, have completed many rounds of animal trials and are confident that the technique will work safely in humans. The team first extract stem cells from the brain of a 12 week aborted human fetus, these cells are then genetically modified to enable them to be replicated. The researchers claim that in using the new technology a single piece of tissue will be enough to provide cells to potentially treat all eligible patients.
When patients suffer a stroke areas of the brain are often irreversibly damaged. Whereas current treatments concentrate on teaching patients to use different brain areas to complete tasks usually done by the damaged region, the new technology is able to actually regenerate nerve cells in the damaged parts of the brain. Speaking to the BBC, Joe Corner of the Stroke Association described brain regeneration as 'the Holy Grail for stroke research'. It is expected that the FDA will concentrate mainly on the safety aspects of the genetic modification. The team incorporate a gene called c-myc into the nerve stem cells taken from the fetus; this gene is involved in normal cell division but if it is mutated can lead to cancer.
ReNeuron Chief Executive Michael Hunt told the BBC: 'We have proven with reams of experimental data that the system is fully controllable. We have also shown that the cells we grow using this system show absolutely no abnormalities throughout the growth process. It is very important for us to be able to demonstrate these safety characteristics before moving our therapy forward into stroke patients'. In the animal trials the modified fetal stem cells restored movement to rats in which a stroke had been induced. Tests showed that brain activity in the damaged areas was restored. A spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children was not impressed with the move toward clinical trials for these cells describing the research as 'unethical in every way'.