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Fetal Tissue Implanted Safely, Doctors Say
01-15-2012, 11:27 AM
Post: #1
Fetal Tissue Implanted Safely, Doctors Say
GAINESVILLE, Fla., Sept. 10— Researchers at the University of Florida reported today that transplanting human embryonic or fetal tissue into people with spinal cord injuries appeared to be safe.

The study is the first in the United States to perform such implants in humans. In two papers released today in The Journal of Neurotrauma, research scientists at the university's McKnight Brain Institute report that the first two patients to undergo the procedure have experienced no ill effects. The research involved spinal cord cells from late embryos or early fetuses -- an embryo becomes a fetus at about eight weeks -- not stem cells, which have the potential to develop into many cell types.

''This was not a study that set out to find a cure for spinal cord injury,'' said Dr. Douglas K. Anderson, chairman of the department of neuroscience at the University of Florida's College of Medicine. ''We were looking to determine whether it was feasible to transplant this tissue into the spinal cord and whether it was procedurally safe to do so. And we've found that it is.''

In the clinical study, nine operations were performed between July 1997 and February 2000 on eight patients with syringomyelia, fluid-filled cavities that can cause severe pain and progressive loss of sensation and movement. The condition is thought to occur in up to 20 percent of people with spinal cord injuries.

During surgery to drain and close the cavities, about a teaspoonful of tissue was transplanted into each spinal cord by Dr. Richard G. Fessler, now at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch. The hope was that the tissue would grow and keep the cavities, or cysts, filled. The scientists have found signs that the tissue did plug the cavities but no conclusive proof.

''We were looking for evidence that the graft tissue survived and was able to grow and at least partially fill these holes,'' said Dr. Edward D. Wirth III, an assistant professor of neuroscience and the lead author of one of the journal articles. ''But all we can tell for certain from magnetic resonance images is that the cysts were indeed collapsed where we placed the tissue. The M.R.I. images do not enable us to distinguish between host tissue and transplant tissue, so we can't say for certain that the transplant tissue survived.''

Dr. Paul J. Reier, a professor of neuroscience and neurosurgery at the Brain Institute, said the human transplants were based on experiments in rats and cats. Those studies indicated that transplanted tissue could help connect healthy sections of the spinal cord, he said.

No additional transplant operations are planned.

''We used embryonic tissue because it had been backed up by years of research in animal models,'' Dr. Anderson said. ''But we've always known that tissue would not be ideal for a bigger clinical trial because of its limited availability and a very narrow window in which it remains viable.''

''The long history of preclinical work has not been done in stem cells or any other cell lines,'' he continued, ''but now scientists can do these kinds of basic studies. With what we know now, it will help us design the experiments that will help us do that research and move this effort forward.''
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