Searching for hidden healers that are within our own genes and stem cells.
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Host: More and more doctors are looking to the smallest places within the human body for cures, secrets hidden within genes and stem cells that can be transformed into healing agents. Yanni Curry was a life long jock who climbs rocks and played football. He never imagined a quick deep in the ocean. We put him in the wheel chair. Yanni: I'm just playing beach volleyball and I run into the ocean for a swim and to cool off and just dove through a wave and—it set me paralyzed. Host: Every year 12000 people like Yanni suffer a spinal cord injury. Yanni: The day of the accident, the nurse came out and told my wife that time my girlfriend at that time that I’d never walk again. Host: Now, an experimental treatment administered within two weeks of injury may hold the key to renewed mobility. It involves injecting embryonic stem cells into the spine. Male: This is a very high purity population of a particular spinal cord cell type that’s lost after injury. Host: At this UCIrvine lab, researchers are coxing stem cells into becoming spinal cords cells. When injected into paralyzed rats, the new cells travel to the damage cord, wrap themselves around nerves and restore some function. Male: An incremental benefit is a huge deal to someone in a wheel chair. Host: The animals regain the ability to walk. Researchers don’t know how it will work in injured people but hopes to start human trials later this year. Male: It would be wonderful to have these patients get out of wheel chairs and play soccer. To be clear, we don’t expect that to happen with this treatment. This is going to be an incremental advance. Host: This experiment won’t help Yanni but he’s hopeful that other stem cell advances could. Yanni: I see that one day there will be a cure. Host: Like many moms, Ellen photographs the important events in her son Max’s life. And this event a stem cell infusion maybe the most important of all. Ellen: It was just kind of a miraculous that you just watch this stem cells dripping into him. Host: Max has Cerebral Palsy which was caused by a stoke he suffered in utero that limits his brains ability to control muscles and nerves that command body movement. Max is one of only a few dozen children undergoing an experimental treatment at Duke University using stem cells from his own cord blood. Female: Cells go to the brain after we infuse them in the blood and that they can help repair damage in the brain and we’re hoping in Cerebral Palsy that that will happen as well. Host: Doctors hope this treatment will improve Max’s mobility and speech. Meanwhile, doctors across the country at the University of Michigan think Gene Therapy will buy more time for people needing organ transplants. Right now 17 people on that list die everyday. Robert Bobian was born with congenital heart disease and spent months in a hospital waiting for a donor heart. Robert: You sit here and hope and you want it, but then you can’t hope you want it too soon because you're asking for something that some would loss someone else. Male: What we’re hoping to do is to eventually be able to deliver genes directly to a failing hearts. Host: Using the common cold virus, genes are transported to the heart where they turn on a protein that makes heart muscle cells contract more regularly. Male: After two days of treatment with the virus, that failing heart cells began to contract with more vigor. Host: Soon after we spoke to Robert, he got the hear transplant he needed. Researchers say this gene therapy can help keep thousands more on the waiting list to life or even better. Male: Our hope would be that we could eliminate transplantation entirely. Robert: I recover every year to recover and then I’ll go on with my life.