Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Adult Stem Cell Trials Encouraging to Israeli Scientists and Patients Alike

Scientists based at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital have broken new ground in the field of stem cell research by injecting sufferers of neurological diseases with therapeutic quantities of cultured adult stem cells.

The Hadassah neurologists, working under the guidance of team leaders Professor Dimitrious Karussis and Prof. Shimon Slavin, the recently retired head of Hadassah's bone marrow unit, extracted stem cells from the hip bone marrow of 26 multiple sclerosis (MS) and amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients. After a two-month long process of in vitro cleansing, multiplication and chemical 'tagging', the cells were re-injected into the patients via lumbar puncture.

According to Karussis, the trials were the first in the world to use this type of stem cells. "The sole aim of this study was to explore the feasibility and the safety of this treatment, since it is applied for first time," Karussis told ISRAEL21c.

No adverse effects were noted, and the experiment was deemed a success. Even more encouragingly, patients also displayed anecdotal improvements in clinical symptoms, leading the way for further developments in forthcoming clinical trials.

"Most MS patients reported a stabilization of their condition and some an improvement in function, especially in sphincter control, muscle power in arms, tremor and stability in walking," Karussis said. "ALS patients continued to show signs of deterioration - though at a lesser than previous degree."...

The most recent safety study, says Karussis, marks the first time that such adult stem cells have been injected into human patients. Although the small-scale study lacked a control group, and thus remains highly experimental, it has paved the way for a larger efficacy trial to be held over the course of the next few years...

The research, the scientists say, is significant since most attention in recent years has been paid to therapies using embryonic, rather than mature, stem cells. But unlike embryonic stem cells, this kind of therapy offers practical advantages because the patient can serve as his or her own donor, significantly reducing the chances of immune system rejection. Such an approach also avoids the complex ethical issues invoked when stem cells are obtained from embryonic sources...

Stem cells, Karussis notes, "have already shown some promise in the treatment of joint and bone diseases, immune conditions and ischemia of the heart." And he is optimistic, he says, that MS and ALS will join that auspicious list one day "not far into the future."