Report Details How Use of Fetal Stem Cells in Treatment Caused Brain Tumors

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 18, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Report Details How Use of Fetal Stem Cells in Treatment Caused Brain Tumors

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 18
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — A new report in a medical journal details how the use of fetal stem cells in the treatment of a boy from Israel caused brain tumors. The report highlights the problems of using cells obtained from destroying unborn children, such as embryonic stem cells, and the problems they create for patients.

The report covers a family who was desperate to save their child, who suffered from a lethal brain disease called ataxia telangiectasia, or A-T. It involves degeneration of certain portions of the brain leading to the child being unable to move and a deterioration of the immune system.

The family turned to scientists in Russia who injected, on various occasions, the neural stem cells obtained from unborn children. They eventually caused a benign, slow-growing brain tumor three years later when the boy complained of headaches.

The cell injections also created a second tumor on his spinal cord, which doctors have removed. The growth on the spine has not reappeared but the mass in the brain has continued to grow slowly.

The researchers, from Tel Aviv University, published a report about the problems associated with the fetal cell injections in the Tuesday issue of Public Library of Science Medicine. They say the cells were to blame for the tumor growths.

Dr. Ninette Amariglio of Sheba Medical, the lead researcher, also said using cells from more than one unborn child contributed to the problems and "may have created a high-risk situation where abnormal growth of more than one cell occurred."

Dr. John Gearhart, a stem cell scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the boy’s treatment or the subsequent study, talked with AP about the news.

"Patients, please beware," he said. "Cells are not drugs. They can misbehave in so many different ways, it just is going to take a good deal of time" to see if they can ever work.

While this is the first documented case of a human developing tumors after receiving neural fetal stem cell therapy, there have been reports of rats developing tumors after being injected with embryonic stem cells.

The study is cited as: Ninette Amariglio, Abraham Hirshberg, Bernd W. Scheithauer, Yoram Cohen, Ron Loewenthal, Luba Trakhtenbrot, Nurit Paz, Maya Koren- Michowitz, Dalia Waldman, Leonor Leider-Trejo, Amos Toren, Shlomi Constantini, Gideon Rechavi. PLoS Med Vol. 6, No. 2, e1000029, published online 17 February 2009. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000029

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