News in Brief
Ohio Woman Emerges from Coma
Despite doctors’ prognosis that she would never recover, 38-year-old Lori Smith emerged from a coma shortly before she was scheduled to be removed from life support. Smith fell unconscious after giving birth to her fourth child January 1, and 13 days later her husband had taken the advice of doctors at Bethesda North Hospital in Cincinnati and agreed to pull the plug.
However, one last visit from her family changed that plan, they told the Today show. After eight-year-old Megan pleaded with her, “Mom, if you love us and you hear us, move your eyes,” Lori Smith showed signs of consciousness.
“Lori moved her eyes, and that was the first sign that I knew Lori was there,” Michael Smith said on Today. “I didn’t know if Lori was being mom for the last time or what, but God really gave us a miracle and brought Lori back to us.”
After the uneventful birth of baby Delilah Grace Hope, Lori Smith suddenly developed blood clots in her brain, liver, and kidneys, and also suffered a stroke, Today reported. She fell into a coma, and doctors predicted the worst.
“The neurologists said they didn’t think there was much hope,” Michael Smith told Today’s Ann Curry.
After she showed signs of responding to Megan’s plea, Lori continued to improve. She was moved from the hospital to a therapy center three days later, when she began saying some words. Although she will continue to need physical therapy, Lori Smith went home with her family 56 days after Delilah’s birth.
“It’s not about me; it was God’s will,” Lori Smith told Today. “I got here because of all the prayers and help. I could have had the plugs pulled out by the doctors.”
Korean Hospital Refuses to Remove Life Support
Refusing to bow to a court ruling, Severance Hospital in Seoul, South Korea, will continue to provide medical care to 77-year-old Kim Ok-kyung, according to Yonhap news agency.
“The decision is basically to warn against the prevailing social atmosphere that takes life too lightly” the hospital said in a statement, according to Korea Times. “We also consider the dignity of human life based on the belief in Christianity, the doctor’s duty of taking care of a patent until one’s death, and the patient’s overall heath.”
Kim fell into a coma after lung surgery in February 2008, Yonhap reported, and her family requested that her life support be removed. In November, a Seoul district court ordered the hospital to remove her respirator, the first such ruling in South Korea. The court ruled that continuing the support would be a “meaningless” extension of Kim’s life, according to Korea Times. An appeals court upheld the ruling in February.
Kim’s doctors disagreed with the family’s and court’s contention that she is brain dead. “The patient reacts to pain, her blood pressure is stable and required nutrition is delivered properly,” hospital chief Park Chang-il told Yonhap. “We cannot remove the respiratory equipment as she will surely die within a few hours without help.”
The hospital will appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court, according to Korea Herald. “Any matter regarding life needs to be handled with upmost prudence as it could create a social climate in which people disrespect life,” said Park said in a press conference.
“The decision to appeal was made because we think the highest court’s final decision is needed regarding the criteria for withholding the treatment for life extension.”
Parkinson’s Patient Treated with Adult Stem Cells
In a single case study that will be followed up by a larger clinical trial, researchers with the UCLA School of Medicine and Brain Research Institute announced February 16 that adult stem cells successfully treated a patient with Parkinson’s disease. In a peer-reviewed paper published in Bentham Open Stem Cell Journal, the researchers described an over 80% improvement in the patient’s motor skills in the five years since treatment.
“We have documented the first successful adult neural stem cell transplantation to reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease and demonstrated the long term safety and therapeutic effects of this approach,” lead author Michel F. Levesque said in a press release.
Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder, which occurs when dopamine-producing brain cells no longer work, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms include tremor, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. The healthy stem cells injected into the patient were intended to take the place of these nonfunctioning brain cells and reverse the disease.
“Our paper describes how we were able to isolate patient-derived neural stem cells, multiply them in vitro and ultimately differentiate them to produce mature neurons before they are reintroduced into the brain’s basal ganglia,” Levesque said. Unlike embryonic cells that are obtained by killing the donor, the scientists used stem cells taken directly from the patient. Since they were the patient’s own cells, no drugs were needed to prevent rejection by the immune system..
The researchers are planning a larger trial that will test the technique on more patients. “It’s our hope that this trial will result in the launch of a cost-effective and lasting therapies for the millions of patients suffering from debilitating neurodegenerative disorders,” said Levesque.
Adult Stem Cells Reverse Multiple Sclerosis
Eighty percent of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in a Northwestern University trial showed marked improvement of their symptoms within three years of receiving treatment with their own stem cells, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
All therapies to date ... have focused on slowing the progression of disease,” Dr. Richard Burt, Northwestern’s chief of immunotherapy for autoimmune diseases, told the Sun-Times. “What this actually did is that it reversed disability. This is the first time we have turned the tide on this disease.”
Burt and his colleagues treated 21 patients with relapsing-remitting MS, an early stage of the disease, according to NewsRx Health & Science. MS is an immune system disease that affects the central nervous system. In the March issue of Lancet Neurology the researchers described the procedure, in which they harvest stem cells from the patients’ own bodies, give them chemotherapy to completely destroy the faulty immune system, and then reintroduce the healthy cells.
“We focus on destroying only the immune component of the bone marrow and then regenerate the immune component, which makes the procedure much safer and less toxic than traditional chemotherapy for cancer,” Burt told NewsRx Health & Science. “In MS the immune system is attacking your brain. After the procedure, it doesn’t do that anymore.”
Of the 21 patients in the trial, 17 showed improvement of their symptoms and none deteriorated, according to Bloomberg. Burt said that a larger study is needed to confirm the results. “It’s encouraging, but, honestly, it’s unproven until you have a randomized trial that proves it,” he told the Sun-Times.
One of the study participants, Virginia Commonwealth University student Edwin McClure, told Commonwealth Times that his symptoms have completely disappeared since the treatment. “It opened up the fence that MS had me locked into,” he said.