The girl, now five, sits next to her doctors, Taiwanese physician Steve Shaw and Singaporean physician Jerry Chan. (Photo/Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital)
Medical professionals from Switzerland, Singapore and Taiwan successfully transferred stem cells to cure Osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, in a fetus, reports our Chinese-language sister paper China Times.
The mother from Taiwan found her unborn child carried the disease during ultrasound and genetic tests in the 26th week of pregnancy. The fetus' arms and thighs were broken even though she was only rolling in her mother's womb, said a member of the team, Cheng Po-jen, director of obstetrics at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in New Taipei.
Since Taiwan has not yet approved stem cell transfer within the womb, the mother went to Singapore where mesenchymal stem cells cultivated by Switzerland's Karolinska Institute were injected into a vein of the fetus at 31 weeks. Within two weeks, the fetus' broken bones were healed except for her right thigh.
After the girl was born, she grew more slowly than normal. She underwent a second stem cell treatment in Singapore at one and a half years old. Now she is almost five and can sing, dance and run like other children and has not experienced any further bone fractures, doctors said.
The merits of stem cell transfer within the womb is that the fetal immune system has not matured. This means it will take the transferred stem cells as its own and will not reject the second transfer, said Cheng.
The success of the girl's case has opened a new chapter in genetic treatments. Information on the case has been published in the journal Stem Cell Translational Medicine, said Steve Shaw, a key physician of the Taiwanese hospital's obstetrics department.
The hospital has also been conducting research on mesenchymal stem cell transfer in amniotic fluid and the womb. The fluid has the potential to treat genetic disorders such as Thalassemia and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The hospital is currently carrying out animal research on the fluid.
Cheng Po-jen 鄭博仁
Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital 林口長庚醫院
Steve Shaw 蕭勝文