After an experimental stem cell treatment, an 18-year-old was left with a nose growing on her spine.
After an 18-year-old woman suffered a spinal cord injury that left her unable to walk, doctors performed an experimental stem cell treatment in hopes of curing the paralysis of her legs. Taking stem cells from her nose, they transplanted them into her spine at the site of the injury. Eight years later, however, she began to develop back pain. After a series of imaging, it was discovered that a 3-centimeter-long mass in her spinal cord was mostly nasal tissue which contained a large amount of mucus-like material.The stem cells were implanted into the spine with the idea that they would develop into neural cells, and help repair the nerve damage in her spine. However, even though the growth did contain some bone and nerve branches, it didn’t connect with her spinal nerves. Lucky for the patient as well, this new nasal growth wasn’t cancerous.
Speaking on the matter, Harvard’s George Daley (who wasn’t involved), said “it speaks directly to how primitive our state of knowledge is about how cells integrate and divide and expand.”
The woman, who I’ll dub Nose-Spine, was treated at the Hospital de Egas Moniz in Lisbon, where a team of doctors received approval for early-stage trials to explore the idea of nasal cells being used in the treatment of paralysis. While what happened to Nose-Spine is scary, the pilot study of 20 patients with spinal cord injuries was successfully completed, and each patient received pieces of nasal lining injected into their damaged spines. All of the patients survived, and several of them actually regained some movement in their paralyzed limbs. Luckily, none of the other patients seem to have grown nasal tissue in their spine either.
While stem cells do seem to be a great tool in fighting disease and ailments, this just proves how far we have to go until we truly understand how they work.
More detail can be found in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, DOI: 10.3171/2014.5.spine13992.