Originally created 07/13/97

Doctors perform first-ever embryonic cell tissue transplant



GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - For the first time in the United States, doctors transplanted nerve tissue from a human embryo into a paralyzed man Friday in an attempt to slow the progression of spinal cord damage.

The operation was performed at Shands Hospital on a 43-year-old Florida man suffering from a degenerative condition called syringomyelia.

The chronic disorder is characterized by expansion of a fluid-containing cavity within the damaged spinal cord that can cause unbearable pain and progressive loss of sensation and movement.

The man, who was not identified at the request of his family, was in serious but stable condition after the operation, which took just under two hours. He was the first of 10 paralyzed volunteers to undergo the operation as part of a four-year study.

"We are advising patients that our primary goal in this pilot study is not to restore lost mobility or feeling, but to plug the expanding cavity and prevent further damage," Dr. Richard Fessler said in a release.

The surgery involved injecting small pieces of human embryonic spinal cord cells directly into an expanding cavity that sometimes forms at the site of a specific type of spinal cord injury.

"Our primary goal in this first clinical experience is to test whether these grafts can survive and, if so, to what extent they can fill the cavity and prevent further spinal damage," Fessler said.

Doctors in Russia published reports of similar operations but a hospital spokeswoman said the results are not well documented.

During research at the University of Florida, injured cats have regained some use of their paralyzed limbs after undergoing the procedure.