It may sound like the plot of a campy zombie thriller, such as the 1985 cult-classic Re-Animator, but scientists are moving ahead with a clinical trial to see if stem cells can "re-boot" and "jump-start" neural activity in people whose brains have stopped functioning. While the trial will 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 is being conducted by 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 a year ago. The study is set to be conducted on 20 brain-dead patients between 15 and 65 years of age in July of 2017 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 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.