Stem cell brain surgery is a leap of faith
Compiled from Times wires
Parents put their hope in a risky and controversial experiment.
Published December 12, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO - Daniel Kerner's parents knew the experimental brain surgery was risky, but without it the 6-year-old surely would die.
Last month in Portland, Ore., doctors for the first time transplanted stem cells from aborted fetuses into his head in a desperate bid to reverse, or at least slow, a rare genetic disorder called Batten disease. The condition normally results in blindness and paralysis before death.
Doctors don't know if the neural stem cells taken from fetuses - donated to a medical foundation by women aborting early-stage pregnancies - will save Daniel's life. But the boy has sufficiently recovered from his eight-hour surgery to be expected to return to his Orange County, Calif., home Friday. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins that night.
"We don't think that is a coincidence," said Marcus Kerner, who said a deep faith in Judaism and long hours of prayer prompted the family to volunteer Daniel for the risky procedure. He was diagnosed two years ago and has lost the ability to walk and talk. His was the first experimental operation among five planned on afflicted children in the next year.
"He was a little boy who was basically waiting to die. Now he's waiting to get better," Kerner said. He said Daniel recently called him "Dad" for the first time in two years.
The stem cells injected into Daniel's head aren't human embryonic stem cells, a research field for which President Bush has limited federal funding because of moral objections. Nonetheless, the new cells in Daniel's brain do carry ethical baggage.
Antiabortion groups oppose the research, which was banned from federal funding by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. President Bill Clinton removed the prohibition in 1993.
"They are trying to give an aura that this is good when this is the most grisly of examples that can be given about abortion," said Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life. "They are taking the brains from babies."
Batten afflicts roughly three out of every 100,000 children in the United States, and most victims die before they reach their teens. The results of the experimental surgery won't be known for at least a year.
Spinal-fluid find may help detect Alzheimer's
Scientists appear to have found a fingerprint of Alzheimer's disease lurking in patients' spinal fluid, a step toward a long-awaited test for the memory-robbing disease that today can be diagnosed definitively only at autopsy.
Researchers at New York's Weill Cornell Medical College discovered a pattern of 23 proteins floating in spinal fluid that, in very preliminary testing, seems to identify Alzheimer's - not perfectly, but with pretty good accuracy.
Far more research is needed before doctors could try spinal-tap tests in people worried they have Alzheimer's, specialists caution. But the scientists already are preparing for larger studies to see if this potential "biomarker" of Alzheimer's, reported today in the journal Annals of Neurology, holds up.
[Last modified December 12, 2006, 01:48:33]
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