Saturday, October 22, 2005

FDA Backs Transplant of Fetal Stem Cells

Federal regulators have approved what would be the first transplant of fetal stem cells into human brains, a procedure that if successful could open the door to treating a host of neural disorders.

The transplant recipients will be children who suffer from a rare, fatal genetic disorder.

The Food and Drug Administration said that doctors at Stanford University Medical Center can begin the testing on six children afflicted with Batten disease, a degenerative malady that renders its young victims blind, speechless and paralyzed before it kills them.

An internal Stanford review board must still approve the test, a process that could take weeks.

The stem cells to be transplanted in the brain are not human embryonic stem cells, which are derived from days-old embryos. Instead, the cells are immature neural cells, from miscarriages, aborted fetuses and other surgical procedures, that are destined to turn into the mature cells that make up a fully formed brain.

Parkinson's disease patients and stroke victims have received transplants of fully formed brain cells before, but the malleable brain cells involved here have never been implanted.

Batten disease is caused by a defective gene that fails to create an enzyme needed in the brain to help dispose of brain cellular waste. The waste piles up and kills healthy cells until the patient dies. Most victims die before they reach their teens.

The idea is to inject the sick children with healthy, immature neural stem cells that will "engraft" in a brain that will direct them to turn into cells able to produce the missing enzyme.

Ophelia Unearths Blackbeard's Treasure

Researchers excavating the site of the pirate Blackbeard's wrecked ship got an unexpected assist from Hurricane Ophelia, which unearthed an apothecary mortar from the remains of the Queen Anne's Revenge.

The item -- familiar to modern eyes in pharmacy logos, where it's shown with a pestle -- was among several items revealed among the wreckage when the storm churned up the North Carolina coastline last month, said Chris Southerly, project archaeologist for the Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project.

Two cannons, an anchor and other debris were also exposed when Ophelia scoured sand to the south and southwest of the main ballast pile.

Project workers believe that is the stern of the vessel, where the officers' quarters would have been and where divers are most likely to find Blackbeard's personal items, Southerly said.

"Probably, the majority of artifacts that would have a date or some [identifying mark] would be found toward the back of the vessel unless, of course, we could find the bell," Southerly said.

The storm's help wasn't all beneficial. It also appeared to have damaged the bronze or copper alloy pestle, stripping off bits of a thin corrosive layer that had protected its surface as it lay on the ocean floor.

The pestle is a significant find that could provide useful historical data about the ship. When Blackbeard took control of the slave ship La Concorde in the Caribbean in 1717, renaming it Queen Anne's Revenge, he forced three of the ship's surgeons to remain aboard.

-- From News Services

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