It may sound like the plot of a campy zombie thriller, such as the 1985 cult-classic Re-Animator, but scientists say they are still looking to move ahead with a clinical trial to see if stem cells can awaken neural activity in people whose brains have stopped functioning. While the trial would not lead us to an apocalyptic, zombie-filled, Walking Dead–type world, it could help patients come out of and recover from vegetative comas.
The clinical trial involves the U.S.-based biotech company Bioquark, and the project has been cheekily named ReAnima.
While this trial will not wake the non-living à la The Walking Dead, it could help people like the show's character Rick, who awakens from a long coma in the premiere.
“To undertake such a complex initiative, we are combining biologic regenerative medicine tools with other existing medical devices typically used for stimulation of the central nervous system in patients with other severe disorders of consciousness,” said Bioquark’s CEO, Ira Pastor. “We hope to see results within the first two to three months.”
The project first made headlines on some science blogs when it was first granted ethical permission in the U.S. a year ago. The study originally was set to launch in India, but regulators there shut it down because of failure to acquire the needed governmental permissions. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–based company now says it is about to announce a trial in Latin America. If it follows previous criteria, it will be conducted on 20 brain-dead patients between 15 and 65 years of age and will follow the outcome of the patients’ brains for one year.
The use of cord blood stem cells to treat brain injuries has already been showing promise. Stem cell therapies may play a neuro-protective role by dampening the inflammatory response and enhancing the reconstructive role in the brain’s repair mechanisms. Researchers are currently looking at the large implications these could have on the treatment of a number of conditions including autism; cerebral palsy; neurodegernerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS; perinatal brain injury and ischemic injury.
Along with the stem cells, researchers are going to use injected protein blends, electrical nerve stimulation and laser brain therapy to try to invoke the neural response.