People News

Albertan pins hope on stem-cell remedy

1.5 from 2 votes
Sunday, June 01, 2008

Jaysen Keslick is already exhibiting the crippling effects of a rare brain disease that killed his father three years ago: He slurs his words, often chokes on food and staggers with each step. A cure is nowhere in sight.

Still, the 32-year-old hopes to slow the pace of his worsening condition by following the path of other Canadians who have travelled to China and shelled out thousands of dollars on controversial stem-cell therapy.

"I`m scared of needles and I`m scared it might not work. But it`s promising," Mr. Keslick, a resident of Taber, Alta., said in an interview yesterday.

Diagnosed six months ago with a genetic brain disorder called Machado Joseph Disease, Mr. Keslick had to leave his job as an oil-rig worker. The illness causes cells to deteriorate in an area of the brain responsible for muscle movements and results in clumsiness, staggering that is mistaken for drunkenness, difficulty swallowing and slurring words.

After hearing about a New Brunswick man whose condition has improved since he received the experimental stem-cell treatment in China this spring, Mr. Keslick is optimistic that he, too, will benefit. He plans to travel to China with his mother in October.

The month-long treatment involves six stem-cell injections into the spine. Stem cells can multiply and grow into all the tissue types that make up the human body. Scientists believe they could be the key to regenerative medicine and be used to grow healthy new tissue.

In this particular therapy, doctors use stem cells from umbilical cord blood, not embryonic cells.

Mr. Keslick`s doctors do not support his trip because there is no evidence that the therapy is beneficial, he said. Further, the province will not cover an experimental treatment, so the family must raise more than $30,000.

Mr. Keslick`s mother is undeterred. She has watched her son physically and mentally deteriorate in the past few months. He avoids leaving his home during the day because people often stare and think he`s drunk.

Mr. Keslick`s father, who was diagnosed with the disease in his early 30s and died at age 53, deteriorated so much that he dropped to 95 pounds from 150 pounds, and used a wheelchair.

"I`m just focused on getting my son over there and getting him well," Karen Jensen-Derksen said. "It will give him back his quality of life."

Canadian doctors and scientists are unconvinced of China`s success stories on stem-cell treatment. Stem-cell research is in its early stages and there is no consensus on experiments conducted on animals. Some have failed.

U.S. researchers cured rats of a Parkinson`s-like disease using human embryonic stem cells. But a few weeks later, they discovered that brain tumours had begun to grow in every animal treated.

John Steeves, a professor and director of the International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries centre at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health, said the regulatory environment is unacceptable in China. There are no control subjects in stem-cell treatments, and patients receiving these surgical procedures are discharged and never assessed again.

"These poor people are spending their very important resources on a treatment that has not been validated by any acceptable clinical trial protocol that are accepted anywhere in the developed world," Dr. Steeves said.

Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster University`s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, warned that there`s no scientific evidence that stem-cell treatments could help MJD patients, and could cause a host of other problems, he added.

"There`s no evidence I`m aware of in man or mouse that this would do anything. In fact, there might be evidence that this might be harmful," Dr. Bhatia said.

Jean-Christophe Haas, 39, believes otherwise. The Oromocto, N.B., resident has kept in touch with Mr. Keslick`s family on his progress since he returned from China in May. The father of three was diagnosed with the brain disease 10 years ago. He received the six injections, followed by deep acupuncture and physiotherapy to help direct the stem cells to the affected area of the brain.

Since his treatment, he said that he hasn`t had to use his crutches. He doesn`t slur as much and he can now bend down without falling.

"I`m not claiming I`m 100 per cent better for sure. But I did get some motion back," Mr. Haas said.

He knows that he will not live long. But he plans on returning to China in a year to receive more stem-cell treatment.

Mr. Keslick is aware the treatment in China may not be successful. But he`s hoping to have the kind of results Mr. Haas has had.

"I`m very scared about what`s going to happen," he said of his brain disease. "I`ve seen what happened with my dad."

© Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc


Author: By Caroline Alphonso
1.5 from 2 votes
Free Newsletter