The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first transplant of foetal stem cells to cure a rare and fatal children's disease. It says that doctors at Stanford University can begin tests on six children with Batten disease, a degenerative condition which leaves them blind, speechless and paralysed before they die.
The idea is to inject stem cells from aborted foetuses into the children's brains with the hope that they will graft to existing brain cells and replace the defective cells. It is a risky operation, but the alternative is certain death from the disease, say supporters of the experiment.
A company called Stem Cells Inc, which was founded by Irving Weissman, a leading figure in California stem cell research, is conducting the study. It obtains its foetal tissue from a non-profit organisation. The ultimate goal of the experiment is to use the same technique on patients suffering from other brain disorders.