Sunday, January 16, 2005

Stem cell treatment does not bring results hoped for

It was supposed to be a life-changing trip to a beautiful locale, but Karen Pollack said a family visit to the ITL Clinic in Freeport, Bahamas, did little to help her daughter.

They went there in June for a stem cell transplant for daughter Karly, 5, who was born with a disease similar to multiple sclerosis. The family desperately hoped the experimental procedure would help Karly walk.

They were told results should be apparent in six to eight months, but the procedure did not work for Karly.

"We saw a tiny bit of improvement, and then nothing," said Karen Pollack, who spent $20,000 on medical treatment and travel. "It hasn't done anything for her."

Karly was born with demyelinating disease, meaning she did not have a natural coating on her spinal cord, which is needed to help relay messages from the brain for vision, walking, talking and memory.

Through therapy, Karly has learned to sit up on her own, but over time the disease worsens and there is no cure. The disease got the Hollywood treatment in the film "Lorenzo's Oil."

Dr. David Steenblock, a controversial osteopathic physician who runs the Brain Therapeutics Medical Clinic in Mission Viejo, Calif., believes stem cells, harvested from newborn's umbilical cords, could be coaxed to repair spinal cord problems.

There's no published medical evidence to support Steenblock's claims, although stem cells do work in therapy for leukemia and blood diseases. It's stem cells gathered from embryos that may hold promise for spinal cord injury and Parkinson's disease.

Karen Pollack is reticent to discuss what happened since her family went to the Bahamas for the treatment.

"We've had stressful results after talking to the press," said Pollack, who said they got calls from reporters in California and the Bahamas for information about their stem cell quest.

By: Shantell M. Kirkendoll