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Stroke patients improve in early fetal stem cell trial

18 June 2012
Appeared in BioNews 661

Stroke patients involved in an early stage clinical trial of a stem cell treatment in Scotland have shown signs of slight improvement.

Five men all over the age of 60 have received treatment as part of a phase I trial, which began in 2010 at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. They all received an injection of brain cells close to areas of the brain damaged by stroke. These cells were derived from stem cells taken from a fetus. Three months after treatment they showed signs of increased mobility and in one case, improved sight. A sixth patient received the treatment less than three months ago, and a further six are due to be treated as part of the trial.

Professor Keith Muir, chair of clinical imaging at the University of Glasgow and who is leading the trial, urged caution. He told the BBC that while the changes were 'nothing very dramatic', the doctors were nonetheless surprised to see any improvement in the patients.

'So far we've seen no evidence of any harmful effects. We're dealing with a group of people a long time after a stroke with significant disability and we don't really expect these patients to show any change over time', said Professor Muir.

He added: 'It's interesting to see that in all the patients so far they have improved slightly over the course of their involvement in the study'. Further trials will be required to establish if the stem cells can help repair damaged tissue.

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine bioprocessing at University College London, said even the slightest improvements could be extremely valuable to patients in improving their quality of life. 'Being able to feed yourself or drink a cup of tea is a massive gain for a patient', he said.

The trial, which is believed to be the first to treat stroke patients using brain cells, is around halfway to completion. 'We hope to tease out over the next 18 months whether the improvement is due to the treatment', Professor Muir told BBC News.

Some critics have questioned the use of fetal stem cells, citing ethical considerations. 'For many it will be ethically troubling that this treatment involves injecting several million cells from an aborted fetus', said Philippa Taylor, head of public policy at the Christian Medical Fellowship.

However, Michael Hunt, chief executive officer of ReNeuron - the company that produced the stem cells used in the trial - said no more cells would need to be extracted.

'We originally derived this material nine years ago from fetal tissue', he said. 'But what we've been able to do with the technology is to grow cells from the original sample such that we don't have to source any further tissue'.

The findings were presented at the International Society for Stem Cell Research's annual meeting in Yokohama, Japan.

18 August 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Five stroke patients have begun to recover after being treated with their own stem cells, and have reported no side effects six months after treatment...
29 July 2013 - by Lanay Tierney 
UK biotech company ReNeuron is to relocate to Wales after securing £7.8m in grants and £5m equity investment from the Welsh government...
5 September 2011 - by Alison Cranage 
A pioneering clinical trial to inject stem cells into the brains of disabled stroke patients has been cleared to progress to the next stage after no safety concerns were raised in the first three patients....
29 November 2010 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
A British man has become the first patient in the world to receive a pioneering stem cell therapy to repair brain damage caused by stroke....
10 May 2010 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy 
Certain variations of mitochondrial DNA are protective against strokes, according to a recent study in The Lancet Neurology....
22 September 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
A group of US researchers have found that injecting human stem cells derived from bone marrow into the brain after it has suffered a stroke can alleviate symptoms. The research was carried out at the Center for Gene Therapy, Tulane University, New Orleans, and reported in Proceedings...
11 December 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
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...
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