On Thursday of last week the FDA approved the first transplant of fetal stem cells into human brains. The first recipients will be children who suffer from a rare and fatal genetic disorder, but if the procedure is successful it could be the first step in making great strides toward treating, curing, and possibly preventing several more common different neurological diseases.
The procedures will be performed by doctors at Stanford University Medical Center on six children suffering from Batten disease. Batten disease is a fatal genetic disease of the nervous system that begins in childhood. The inflicted suffer from visual problems, mental impairment, and seizures, leaving them blind, bedridden, and demented. Most die in their late teens or early twenties.
Doctors had previously done transplants of fully formed brain cells in an attempt to treat Parkinson’s sufferers and stroke victims with limited success. This will be the first time, however, that immature neural stem cells are transplanted. It is thought that the undeveloped cells would be more likely to both graft themselves into the recipient’s brain and then be able to start the production of the enzyme whose difficiency causes Batten’s and is not currently being produced by inflicted neural cells.
The approval of this surgey was prompted by the success researchers have had during studies treating Batten-afflicted mice. However, it does come at a time when stem cell research is at the center of unrelenting controversy. Unabated, the doctors are determined to move forward in an effort to cure this utterly horrific, fatal disease that has caused so many families to suffer and for which there is currently no known cure .