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News of the Day ... In Perspective

5/25/2007

Autologous bone-marrow stem cells tested in Chagas disease

A 1,200-patient trial, the world’s largest study of the potential of stem cells, is underway in Brazil, for four different heart conditions that cause the death of cardiac cells, including Chagas disease.

Cells harvested from the patient’s own hip are injected intra-arterially. The cost of the procedure, about $5,000, is much less than in heavily regulated laboratories as in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is keeping a "tight check" on similar research in the United States.

James Willerson, M.D., president of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Dallas, states that because bone-marrow injections have already been used safely in cancer treatments, it should be permissible to skip some pre-testing ordinarily done on animals.

As much as 6 percent of the population of Brazil is infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite spread by the "kissing bug" (Triatoma). The vector is also widespread in the mid to southern latitudes of United States. In Arizona, donated blood is screened for Chagas disease.

Researcher Ribeiro dos Santos wants an early look at the data in the hope that placebo-treated patients will eventually be able to get the stem cells also. "Otherwise they will die," he said. He thinks the treatment is improving heart function and stamina, though others report a strong placebo effect from intra-arterial saline.

The government scientist who controls the data, Dr. Campos de Carvalho, has decided to wait until more patients complete the study. "We don’t want to be one of the countries that do things without solid scientific evidence," he said (Antonio Regalado, Wall St J 4/11/07).

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