View Full Version : Stem cell: A few small steps feed big hope

Mr. Laz
07-05-2005, 11:07 AM
Posted on Tue, Jul. 05, 2005

A few small steps feed big hope

Paralyzed man is moving along after fetal-cell operation

By ALAN BAVLEY The Kansas City Star

‘I’ve already improved more than they said to expect. Everything else is a bonus.’

David Landewee

With his legs strapped into braces and his hands tightly grasping a four-wheeled walker, David Landewee can walk about 25 feet before he tires.

The distance may be short, but when this 42-year-old Clay County man drops back into his wheelchair he knows he has accomplished something extraordinary.

Just four months ago, Landewee couldn’t walk. An auto accident in 1995 damaged his spinal cord and left him paralyzed below his chest.

In March, Landewee was in China for a controversial operation to inject cells from aborted fetuses into his spine. His hope was that the cells would help restore his spinal cord nerves.

Chinese doctors, led by American-trained neurosurgeon Huang Hongyun, claim great success restoring at least some function to their paralyzed patients, but they have yet to publish much data about their results. That lack of information has left many scientists in the United States skeptical.

Even the American researchers most familiar and favorably inclined toward Huang’s work told Landewee to expect only modest benefits from the surgery.

“I’ve already improved more than they said to expect,” Landewee said. “Everything else is a bonus.”

Landewee said he’s regained the use of muscles in his hips that allow him to move his legs. He now has sensation in his stomach and can feel pressure in his knees and on the soles of his feet when he stands.

Every muscle or sensation he recovers encourages him to try to do more.

“When you start getting stuff back you’re never satisfied,” Landewee said. “You always want to do more.”

Linda Klaiber, Landewee’s physical therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City, has been working with him several times a week since the surgery. She’s been impressed with his progress.

“His ability to walk one leg at a time, the way we all walk, to me is the most amazing thing,” she said. “You wouldn’t expect that.”

Landewee has custom braces that extend from his back to his shoes. They hold his knees and ankles rigid so his legs can swing forward without dragging.

As Landewee stands in his walker, Klaiber holds a strap around his waist, helping him keep his balance.

“I’m really not assisting that much,” she explains. “I help more with posture than with leg control.”

Landewee moves his left leg forward a step. He engages the brake on his walker. Releases it. Steps forward with his right leg. Brakes again.

You can sense it in the look of determination on his face, the sweat rolling down his forehead: Landewee’s every step takes supreme effort.

Slowly but steadily, he walks across the physical therapy room at the Rehabilitation Institute. His mother, Peggy, pushes his yellow wheelchair up behind him just as he needs to rest.

Landewee is optimistic that by next March he will be walking with just a cane or crutches and with no braces.

If he continues to gain strength and balance, in just a couple of months Landewee ought to be able to use his braces and walker to get around without anyone’s help, Klaiber predicted.

He may be able to graduate from a walker to crutches and from full-leg braces to braces on his lower legs. But that could be as much progress as he will make unless he regains control of more muscles.

So far, that hasn’t happened, Klaiber said.

“I haven’t noticed additional muscle groups kicking in, but the new muscle groups he has are getting stronger,” she said.

Whether nerves in Landewee’s damaged spinal cord will regenerate is the big question.

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that transmits sensations from the body to the brain and relays orders from the brain to the muscles that move the body.

Spinal cord injuries had long been considered permanent because the nerve cells in the cord do not grow back effectively. But in recent years, promising research into regenerating the damaged nerves has given new hope to the hundreds of thousands of people in the United States with spinal cord injuries. Researchers are using stem cells, nervous system cells and experimental drugs to coax the nerves to grow.

Landewee received an injection of specialized fetal cells that are involved in the sense of smell. The olfactory nerve, which sends sensations of smell to the brain, continually regenerates throughout a person’s life. The cells the Chinese researchers used, called olfactory ensheathing glial cells, support this regeneration by wrapping around nerve fibers and promoting their growth.

“If he walks in a year, more power to him. We’ll just have to see,” said Charles Carson, president of the Minnesota-based Spinal Cord Society, a nonprofit organization supporting research into a cure for paralysis.

“I don’t doubt for a minute that in some cases the injections will be of some help, but we’re always a bit skeptical,” Carson said. “For a person paralyzed for a long time, any improvement is nice, but to be fully restored — none of these methods do it.”

But Carson’s organization sees enough potential in using regenerative cells to restore damaged spinal cords that it is collaborating with researchers in New Zealand and Canada to provide paralyzed patients with injections made from their own nasal tissue and bone marrow stem cells.

Landewee is confident that the therapy that cost him about $20,000 is continuing to work, and that he’ll be recovering new abilities well into next year.

“It’s been a hard and slow recovery, but it’s steady,” Landewee said. “It’s been worth every penny of it for me.”

07-05-2005, 11:22 AM
good for him... I really dont' get why, since we allow abortions in this country, why we think it is then unjust to try to use them in some way...

I'm a conservative too! lol