Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Fetal Cell Implants: What We Learned

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Fetal Cell Implants: What We Learned

Article excerpt

The results are now in from a controversial clinical trial involving the injection of cells obtained from aborted fetuses into the brains of persons suffering from Parkinsonism (NEJM 344, no. 10 (2001): 710-14). Of the forty subjects, twenty had received fetal cells via injections through four holes drilled through their skulls. Twenty got sham surgery--holes, but no injections. Of the subjects who received fetal cells, none reported any benefit in the control of their symptoms.

Physicians who did not know which patients had received injections did detect some slight improvement in some of those who had received fetal cells, particularly among subjects under sixty years of age. But they also found that 15 percent of those who received fetal cells had begun to show rapidly worsening symptoms of Parkinsonism. In these subjects, the disease appears to have been exacerbated by fetal cells that were growing too abundantly and overproducing dopamine, the key chemical lacking in those with Parkinsonism.

Unsurprisingly, these results have left many clinicians dubious about the merits of current techniques for injecting fetal cells. A high risk of a terrible harm seems to require a moratorium on similar studies until what went wrong is identified and found to be amenable to control.

The study's tragic ending also seems to have two other implications. …

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