Researchers using stem cells must work to make their treatments safer after a 17 year-old boy with a rare genetic disease in 2001 was cured with an embryonic stem cell transplant in Moscow, but then developed benign brain and spinal tumors four years later. According to ‘Plos Medicine’ magazine, Israeli doctors removed cancer from the boy, the tumors developed due to a stem cell treatment that he received.
Some of the doctors fear that the therapy he received could involuntarily transmit viruses or other diseases. The boy was treated for a disease known as Ataxia telangiectasia or Louis-Barr Syndrome, which attacks the brain and spinal fluid. In the four years following the treatment, he went to doctors with frequent headaches, and later doctors at the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv later found two tumors, one in the boy’s brain and the other on his spinal cord in the same location where he was injected during his previous treatment.
A year later, a benign tumor was removed from his spine, and doctors discovered that the tumor contained cells that could not have been produced by the boy’s own tissue, and that they probably came from the implanted stem cells that he received. According to the doctors, the donor cells may have caused the tumors because people who suffer from this particular illness often have weak immune systems. “It is unclear if the stem cell therapy helped his genetic condition, but that does not mean that stem cell research should be abandoned. More needs to be done to improve the safety of stem cell treatments.”