Woman Grows Tiny Nose in Her Spine After Failed Stem Cell Surgery
Eight years after a failed experimental surgery in which olfactory stem cells from a paraplegic's nose were implanted into her spine, a 3-centimeter growth of nasal cells was removed from her back.
The surgery, performed on a US citizen at a hospital in Portugal, was intended to relieve her paralysis, under the theory that the nasal stem cells would proliferate into neural cells and repair some of her nerve damage, but it did not work. Last year, the woman began to experience severe pain at the site of implantation, which led to another surgery and the discovery of a miniature nose in her spine. It was a non-cancerous growth that consisted of nasal tissue, nerve cells, and fragments of bone. The neurosurgeon who removed the mass, Brian Dlouhy of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, concluded that the mass caused her back pain as a result of its secretion of a "thick copious mucus-like material," which caused it to press on her spine.
While other research teams who are experimenting with this therapy grow the stem cells in a lab in order to isolate the desired cells, the team that originally operated on this woman omitted the isolation step during her procedure. Dlouhy postulated that the direct implantation of cells from the nasal lining may have caused the growth.
"It is sobering," says George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Harvard Medical School who has helped write guidelines for people considering stem cell treatments. "It speaks directly to how primitive our state of knowledge is about how cells integrate and divide and expand."
Stem cells have been hailed as the future of medicine as a result of their ability to proliferate into different kinds of cells. However, this same proliferation has given researchers pause in the case of implantation, since it could potentially lead to cancer or other dangerous masses.
A Lisbon study in which 20 people received the same treatment as this woman showed that eleven experienced some relief of their paralysis, the paralysis of one patient was exacerbated, and the remaining four patients experienced minor adverse effects. It is unknown whether this woman was part of this study.
Stem cell researcher Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, who has performed this treatment on up to 140 people, said, "I am saddened to learn of this adverse event, however, the incidence of this problem is less than 1 per cent. Many patients receiving this treatment have had remarkable recovery."
But Daley points out that many of the studies of stem cell treatments only track the patients for several years, so adverse effects that arise much later, as they did with the woman in question, may be missed. "We need to be extremely vigilant and we need extremely long-term follow-up," he says.