Cell Therapy

Bay Area researchers are using a particular cancer to produce neuronlike cells that, when injected into the brain, seem to reverse the effects of stroke. Is the treatment a historic medical breakthrough, or a reckless ploy to attract investors?

Fredericks tried anti-depressants, but it took the Layton study to permanently lift him from his funk. Like Perrin, Fredericks had done his homework, and when Layton interviewed him as a potential candidate, he rattled off statistics about previous patients and animal studies. Although Fredericks says his family and friends thought the experiment would kill him, Fredericks knew Layton's science made sense. And, of course, meeting Dr. Steinberg, "my favorite doctor in the entire world," didn't hurt either.

Almost four months after surgery, Fredericks waits in Room 16 for Steinberg's arrival. The doctor is even more eagerly anticipated than usual, because today he plans to unveil a spectroscopy report on Fredericks' brain. The X-rays will compare the health of brain cells before and after surgery, and Fredericks wants his suspicions confirmed: The cells work, but he needs more.

Steinberg sweeps in and slaps a series of X-rays against a glowing wall unit. "Remarkable," he says. Areas of Fredericks' brain that recorded baseline readings of cell health before surgery now sport moderate peaks. "Very encouraging."

To a doctor, maybe, but to a patient, these minimal leaps of progress are more frustrating than fulfilling. Before Steinberg leaves, Fredericks peppers him with sly requests for more cells. By Fredericks' math, based on the results of rat studies, he needs about 80 million to fully recover from his stroke. The FDA, however, needs more than just Fredericks' projections to give the go-ahead on increased dosages.

"I'm sure we've got the solution here," Fredericks says. "And if I risk myself on the front end of this, and we discover it's 50 million neurons to win the game, I'm coming back for more.

"For free," he adds, limping slowly down the hospital hallways toward more tests and trials. "After all, Layton is going to get rich on this someday."

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