Fetal Cells Offer Hope In China

Ben Byer has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's destroying his body's muscles. For Ben, the first thing that started to fail were his vocal chords.

There is no cure for ALS, and there's virtually no chance of improvement.

Or is there?

Ben had a radical new surgery - fetal cells were injected directly into his brain. Three days later, Ben's ability to make speak came back.

As remarkable as this is, the real surprise is that this surgery is happening in Beijing.

It's too politically sensitive in the U.S. because it's about abortion.

Says Ben's father, Stephen Byer: "There are abortions being done for medical reasons, for lifestyle reasons, I don't know. All I know is that second trimester cells are usable for this wonderful purpose of saving lives."

The kind of surgery being done in the Chinese hospital Bryer was operated in is virtually off-limits in America. Treatment using cells from an aborted fetus is too controversial in today's politically charged atmosphere -- even though in China it's now showing results with some paralyzed patients.

Jake Giambrone, paralyzed from the neck down, could only move his right arm. Two days after fetal cells were injected into his spine, moving his arm is no longer impossible.

Chinese doctor Huang Hongyun actually trained in the U.S. where fetal cell research is restricted to animals.

American neurological experts say this is good science.

Dr. Wise Young, a neurological researcher at Rutgers University, says about this surgery, "Most of the patients get back significant sensory function and some motor function. It was modest, but definite."

Beatrice Alvarez from Cuba could not move any part of her body below her waist. After the operation, she's wiggling her toes.

As for Byer, he says, "To say I'm going to make a full recovery is maybe a bold statement."

Byer believes his death sentence has been commuted. To him, it's a medical miracle he says other Americans can have - but only if they're willing to leave America to find it.

  • Raksha Shetty

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