Chinese Researcher Using Fetal Cells For Neuroregeneration

The Scientist published a long piece on trials in regenerative medicine using fetal cells in China:

Over the past 3 years, Huang told The Scientist, he has used fetal tissue transplants to treat more than 450 patients. He now has 1000 Chinese and foreign patients on a waiting list, including about 100 Americans, who find him via the Internet or word of mouth. He has also used the procedure to treat strokes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and brain injuries with, he says, "equally positive results."

The bulk of his Huang's patients are people suffering from spinal cord injury, followed by ALS, a distant second. He has only treated a few patients with Parkinson disease.

Some of the technical details:

Huang uses olfactory ensheathing glial cells (OECs) extracted from the olfactory bulbs of fetuses aborted during the second trimester of pregnancy. These cells are thought to have the capacity to regenerate damaged nerve fibers, and although research groups elsewhere are conducting human trials with adult versions of the cells, Huang's group is virtually alone in using fetal tissue.

The neurosurgeon's team cultures the cells before injecting them into the patient.


The transplanted cells do not replace neurons, but help the neuronal axons to regenerate, and this brings about improvements in the conditions of patients, Huang told The Scientist. "OECs don't replace neurons," he said. "It's the glial cells that provide an environment in which damaged neuron cells recover."

"I don't know how it works, but I know it helps patients," the neurosurgeon admitted. "But the clinical evidence shows that it can help. And if I'm wrong, we wouldn't be achieving these results."

Fetal tissue research is restricted in the US and Europe, which is why it is left to researchers in China to perform this sort of work. Some Western groups are evaluating Huang's research to see what we can learn from it, and whether more sophisticated and well controlled trials can proceed:

Wise Young, a research professor at New York University's medical school, told The Scientist Huang's work was interesting. "His results represent a credible phase 1 trial that establishes the safety and feasibility of such transplants. Preliminary analyses of the results suggest that the procedure may produce rapid but modest sensory and motor improvements in people from 2 to 40 years after injury. These results await confirmation with more rigorous controlled trials."

Huang himself does not claim a miracle cure. With spinal injury patients, he said, neurological functions can improve, but he expects no complete recovery. With ALS, "If the process can keep them stable, that's already pretty good."

Huang has published some of his results in a medical journal. They provide an incentive for researchers working in this and related areas to make progress towards understanding why this therapy works - and to build better therapies from the underlying biochemistry.


Everyone knows that this was bound to happen. I didn't expect it so soon. I suspect that these therapies current offered are not very effective. However, as more clinics get into the "medical outsource" business, competition will ensure that their research and treatments get better and better over time.

I always thought the obvious treatment to offer as a medical tourism deal is the IGF-1 muscular gene therapy that Sweeney and others developed at U of Penn. No doubt this therapy will be offered in the near future.

Posted by: Kurt at July 30th, 2004 2:11 PM

Hello all,

I sent the following letter to Mr. Moody:

Hello Mr. Moody,

I read your article "Who's Afraid of Life Extension" and I can tell you, I am definitely not afraid of life-extension.

As someone who live in the adult playground of LA during the late 80's as well as a totally "disconnected" open life in Asia during the 90's, I view the aging process as simply a pest, a thorn in the side, that gets in the way of me being able to live a completey free and open life with an unlimited open horizon. I live for openess. Its he only thing I believe in.

I actually have not met any "immortalists" here in the states (judging from the interent, there are a lot of us), but all of the expats I have met in bars throughout Asia all thought a cure for aging and immortality was pretty cool. Long-term expats (read Fred Reed's description of them, its accurate) are driven by freedom and being able to live ones life without the constraints of a conventional life cycle. Some of them marry, most do not. They are definitely driven by desire not to live life in a pattern or to be a part of someone else's parade. These are all sentiments that I share.

We don't like the conventional life cycle because, on the whole, its basically boring, limited, and involves a lot of hassle without much payoff. In other words, its a lousy deal.

I believe that many people who question the desirability of agelessness is due to the fact that they have lived the conventional life and honestly believe that's where its at. They cannot imagine anyone not wanting to have the kids, the morgage payments on the home in the pricy suburbs, and the boring expensive cars. They cannot imagine just droping everything, selling it all off, and moving to Thailand or Belize.

The point of immortality is to explore the infinite possibilites of life. You want to live in Japan for 10 years, go do it. You want to start a software company in Singapore and spend 5 years building it up, go do it. You want to simply hang out in Bali or Boracay for months at a time, you can do it.

Immortality is about "You Can Do It". You can do what you want for as long as you want, then go on to do something else. Its not about seeking the infinite (although its that too) its about seeking the indefinite. I know that my next flight to Taipei could go down. I do not fear death any more than others. I just like life and freedom, without any set horizons.

The most frightening thing to me about the people who oppose the development of agelessness is their complete lack of comprehension about this kind of freedom. It simply does not register in the brains. These people live their limited, dark, depressing lives and think that all there is to life.

I really find the anti-immortalists to be quite depressing.

If I was superrich, I would buy you a plane ticket to Asia (or Latin America) and insist that you live as expat for a few years. I think that this would broaden your horizons enough to realize that there is more to life than debt service and living the conventional life pattern.

Please try to understand us advocates for immortality. Its really all about freedom.

BTW, there are awesome sunsets to be seen from Boracay, and schools of tuna to be seen at 30 meters down.

See, you are not alone.


The response I receive should be interesting (and telling).

Posted by: Kurt at August 1st, 2004 4:19 PM


Mr. Moody actually responded to the letter I sent him that is in my previous posting. Below is his response:

I thank you for your communication, which raises many profound issues. Suffice it to say that you and I have very different approaches to the meaning of "freedom," and I understand why your ideas are incompatible with doubts about prolongevity. May you live long enough to find out where your ideas can lead you.

Any comments on Mr. Moody's response?

Posted by: Kurt at August 5th, 2004 2:05 PM

Randall Parker recently blogged

on research showing that ATP release immediately after spinal trauma causes neuronal cell death. This reasearch provide a path to an acute treatment for spinal injuries that could reduce paralysis.

All exciting stuff.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at August 9th, 2004 9:17 AM

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