X-Message-Number: 14862
From: "Jan Coetzee" <>
Subject: Brain Repair Companies 
Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 19:40:00 -0500

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Brain Repair Companies Sharpen Their Drills

Needing This Treatment Like Another Hole in the Head

      [By Ben Hirschler, European pharmaceuticals correspondent in Reuters.
($1-.6907 Pound)]

      London - Local anaesthetic, a small drill-hole in the skull and a
syringe full of new cells may one day be all it takes to cure brain damage.
      That, at least, is the hope of scientists pioneering a new kind of
"brain repair kit" using implants of mass-produced cells to patch up damaged
grey matter.
      The daring approach offers hope to those incapacitated by stroke or
degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's [or Autism?].
However, experts say it will take years before it is proved to be safe and
      A growing number of companies are lining up to commercialise the
technology, including Britain's ReNeuron-a spin-off from the Institute of
Psychiatry-which plans to raise 15-20 million pounds ($22-29 million) with
its initial public offering on London's Alternative Investment Market this
      ReNeuron uses neural stem cells, grown in culture from aborted foetus
tissue, to regenerate damaged parts of the brain. Stem cells are immature
"master" cells which can be coaxed into forming virtually any type of tissue
in the body.
      It has proved the principle in rats and plans to start trials on
humans in the second half of next year.
      ReNeuron is not alone. At least five other companies are operating in
the field with the most advanced work to date done in the United States.
      The idea of transplanting cells into damaged brains is not altogether
      For the last 10 years, doctors have been treating a handful of
Parkinson's disease patients using cells transplanted from the brains of
aborted foetuses. The technique, pioneered by scientists at Sweden's Lund
University, has been shown to alleviate the worst symptoms of the disease.
      But it takes an average of six foetuses to treat an adult brain,
making the process practically-and ethically -- problematic.
      Biotechnology companies believe they have now found ways round this
supply problem.
      One option, being pursued by ReNeuron and several others, is to use
genetic engineering to "immortalise" human cell lines which can then be
produced indefinitely in the laboratory.

      Implanted Pig Cells
      Another approach is to turn to animal tissue.
      The U.S. company Diacrin Inc, which is further advanced than its
rivals in terms of clinical trials, harvests brain cells from the foetuses
of pigs for implant into humans.
      Its research suffered a setback earlier this year after two two cases
of complications in stroke patients. But product development is continuing
and Diacrin is also investigating using porcine cells to treat spinal cord
injury and to repair damaged heart muscle.
      Nevertheless, many medics have reservations about animal-to-human
transplants-with some speculating they might spread as yet unknown
viruses-and other firms in the field are concentrating on human tissue.
      They include the privately owned U.S. company Layton BioScience which
reported two months ago that it had successfully treated stroke patients
using human cancer cells that had been "retrained" to become nerve cells.
      Among others in the field are U.S. companies StemCells Inc and
unlisted NeuralStem Biopharmaceuticals Ltd, together with the private
British firm CellFactors.
      The two U.S. firms, like ReNeuron, are working with stem cells while
CellFactors is studying the mass-production of specific brain cell types.
      Doctors have recently been intrigued by growing evidence of of the
brain's ability to repair itself, as demonstrated, for example, by dramatic
recoveries in some infant stroke victims.
      Cell implants might eventually make that kind of a recovery routine
for adults.

      Great Deal To Prove
      But Owen Redahan, director of Britain's Stroke Association, says there
is still a great deal to prove.
      "The principle is interesting but it's going to be extremely
complicated to get the cells to take over functions that have been destroyed
after a stroke," he said.
      "I think it will take up to 10 years before we can say whether or not
it is really possible." Research so far suggests that cells-whether human or
porcine-can be transplanted successfully to replace damaged ones. But the
big question is whether the brain functions that died when the original
brain cells died are replicated precisely, Redahan said.
      Martin Edwards, chief executive of ReNeuron, admits it will be a long
      "I don't think a product like ours will be on the market for about
eight years because the clinical trials required are likely to be long and
quite difficult, although some of our competitors are far more bullish and
talk of something by 2004 or 2005," he said.


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