NOBEL CAUSE; British Scientists' Cell Research Could Rewrite History

Article excerpt

BRITISH scientists have developed a technique which they claim can rescue patients from the brink of death - by using their own blood. Biotech firm TriStem, based in London, say they can turn blood into personalised stem cells which can repair major organs.

And this could lead to treatments for a wide range of debilitating diseases including heart failure, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Experts say the discovery - if proven true - would be a medical breakthrough comparable to Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin 76 years ago.

Stem cell researcher Dr Richard Boyd, of Monash University, Melbourne, who has reviewed the data first-hand, said: 'If it's true, it's a fundamental rewrite of the textbooks.'

He added that it would be 'Nobel prize-winning stuff'.

TriStem say they take a sample of someone's blood and treat their immune cells with a special antibody for a few hours.

They have announced that the first four patients to receive their treatment made dramatic recoveries from aplastic anaemia - a lethal condition where the patient has a severe lack of bone marrow - within days.

And the firm say their technology holds similar promise for the wide range of debilitating diseases that mainstream stem cell researchers are tackling.

A 25-year-old patient who underwent the 'personalised stem-cell therapy' at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India, astonished doctors by his recovery from severe aplastic anaemia.

In July, he needed five blood transfusions a month just to stay alive and, even so, he was bleeding from his gums and eyes and could barely get out of bed.

Barely three months later he is in rude health, up and playing cricket with his friends - and described as 'bright, lively and full of smiles'.

A second patient said: 'I woke up after the procedure and felt so strong I wanted to get up and run out of the hospital.'

A biopsy of his bone marrow two weeks on showed that what had been a barren wasteland was now teeming with cells.

Analyses showed his blood system seemed to completely recover within a week.

In comparison, it takes about three months for a patient to recover after a bone marrow transplant.

In the bleak world of aplastic anaemia it seemed like a miracle.

The researchers performed the procedure on three more patients and all showed similarly spectacular recoveries with their blood cells reaching desired levels within, at most, 20 days of the treatment.

Like penicillin, TriStem's technology was discovered by accident.

In 1990 Dr Ilham Abuljadayel, a consultant immunologist at a military hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, left in the open some immune molecules which destroy antibodies while researching leukaemia.

Instead of dying, the dark leukaemia cells visibly changed - becoming transparent and apparently flourishing. After several further attempts it occurred to Dr Abuljadayel the transparent cells had the appearance of bone marrow stem cells.

The leukaemia cells seemed to have 'retrodifferentiated' - a biological heresy.

She found that some of the cells looked like various types of blood cells that had never been present in the original sample. …