Stroke patients in foetal cell trial show improvement

Foetal Brain Cells Image copyright SPL
Image caption Brain cells from a foetus were originally used to create the stem cells

Doctors in Scotland have said five stroke patients involved in an experimental stem cell treatment have shown signs of slight improvement.

They have stressed that it is too soon to tell whether the improvement is due to the therapy.

The medical team has talked about the first results of the treatment at a conference in Japan.

The procedure is controversial as brain cells from a foetus were originally used to create the stem cells.

A team, from Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, has been injecting the stem cells into the brains of stroke patients.

The trial began in November 2010. The participants are all men over the age of 60 who have been severely disabled by a stroke and have shown no sign of improvement for at least a year.

The doctors hope that the treatment will repair their damaged brain tissue and restore some of their movement and ability to speak.

The trail is at an early stage, and doctors are primarily looking to see that the treatment is safe. But they have found that five of the six patients treated so far have shown some slight signs of improvement.

Speaking at the International Society for Stem Cell Research annual meeting held this year in Yokohama in Japan, doctors conducting the trial announced their interim results. They said that they had noticed that the speech of some of their patients was less slurred, hand movements improved in others and leg strength and stability had improved in another.


According to Prof Keith Muir of Glasgow University who is leading the trial the changes were "nothing very dramatic", but they were surprising because it had been thought that patients who had been disabled for so long would show no improvement whatsoever.

The question that the doctors have to answer is whether the slight improvements are due to the cell therapy the patients are receiving, or whether its simply due to the extra attention the men are receiving from hospital staff.

The team is halfway through its experimental trial and Prof Muir believes that his team will soon be able to resolve the issue.

"We hope to tease out over the next 18 months whether the improvement is due to the treatment," he told BBC News.

Critics though object to the treatment as brain cells from a foetus were originally used to create the cell treatment. Michael Hunt, Chief Executive Officer of the company that produced the stem cells, Reneuron, said that the technology used to grow the cells is such that no further foetal tissue will be required.

"We originally derived this material nine years ago from foetal tissue," said Mr Hunt. "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".

Mr Hunt added that the earliest a treatment could be widely available if everything goes very well is five years. But for the moment, he said "it is a case of so far, so good".

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