Israeli scientists reported last Tuesday that a boy – whose identity is withheld – developed tumors in his brain and spinal cord as a result of a highly experimental fetal stem cell injection. The family of the boy who was sick with ataxia telangiectasia or A-T, which causes certain regions of the brain to degenerate thereby gradually robbing the patient with the ability to move, was desperate to save the child that they traveled to Russia to get the treatment.
Scientists are devotedly working to harness various types of stem cells, which are the building blocks for all other cells that make up the body, to enable damaged tissue to re-grow and consequently treat devastating diseases. Researchers warn, though, that while the concept shows much promise, scientists must learn to control newly-injected stem cells so that they don’t grow in places where they shouldn’t. At this point in time, small studies in people are only beginning.
The report on the boy reveals the first known incidence of a tumor caused by a fetal stem cell injection, although it is benign and is slow growing. This further emphasizes the need for extensive and careful research. It also serves as a reminder to patients and their families to be wary on stem cell injections that have yet to be proven, no matter how desperate the situation may be. Stem cells should not be mistaken for drugs as they can misbehave in a lot of different ways, some over a period of time.
Since the boy is quite ill, the thought that other factors may have triggered the growth has crossed doctor’s minds. Extensive tests on the tumor tissue, however, have traced it conclusively back to the stem cell injections. The fact that the boy had a poor immune function to begin with may have helped the growths to take hold.