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Local Scientists Working To Rebuild Body Parts

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DAVIS (CBS13) – It’s the plot of more than one Hollywood movie: scientists being able to rebuild body parts in a lab. But what began in the realm of science fiction, is closer than ever to becoming part of mainstream medicine.

Local scientists working in our region are making daily discoveries in their quest to being able to one day rebuild bones, organs, nerves and tissue, all thanks to exciting research on stem cells.

From humans to horses, the evidence is overwhelming that scientific advances will be able to change the way we think about disease and the healing process.

Outside a barn in Martinez, the sound from coming from Shadow’s hoofs as he clopped into the stable was something Cathy Felter feared she might never hear again.

“I call him my Angel Pony. He’s just been there through all sorts of experiences.”

Until last August it was what you’d expect from him — rounding up cattle and trail rides.

Then Shadow tore a tendon.

“When I saw the ultrasound of it there were huge holes in it. As a matter of fact, there were some places where there were only a few fibers holding it together.”

“The prognosis without it [stem cell therapy] was pretty dreary, maybe in a stall for the rest of his life.”

Enter the stem cell specialists at U.C. Davis with a treatment that’s breaking new ground in how to heal equine injuries.

A roll of fat was extracted from Shadow’s rear, stripped down to stem cells, re-grown, and then re-injected in the injury site, re-growing the torn tendon.

Less than six months after the three thousand dollar treatment Shadow’s walking for nearly an hour every day, often with Cathy in the saddle.

And they say what’s working for horses now, could make all of us healthier in the future.

Like cerebral palsy patient Dallas Hextell.

We first met Dallas and his parents five years ago, right before a stem cell infusion.

“What’s your favorite color,” Dallas asked our videographer Matt.

Dallas’ symptoms have significantly reversed.

“He’s in kindergarten, he has friends, he runs, he fights with his brother,” says his mom Cynthia with a smile on her face.

Cynthia and her husband Derak believe their son’s dramatic turnaround is directly due to a stem cell procedure (at Duke University) in 2007 using Dallas’ banked cord blood.

It’s as if a switch had been turned on in his brain.

“He always had a disconnected look,” says Derak. “Shortly after he had the procedure done, it’s as if his brain was more clear.”

His procedure was highly experimental.

The Hextells were criticized for taking their son’s stem cell success story public too soon, giving hope, perhaps prematurely, to other families of cerebral palsy patients.

But three FDA approved trials have just been launched to find proof that it works.

“We’re really excited to have medical evidence, and answers and what they find out” says Cynthia.

The search for answers, and success, grips the scientists and clinicians here at U.C. Davis, like Dr. Jan Nolta, the director of the stem cell program.

“Stem cells and regenerative medicine have the potential to cure these patients rather than just the medicine,” says Dr. Nolta.

Seeing some success in horses and humans, these scientists are pioneers in a new frontier, seeking lab breakthroughs to kick-start human trails.

U.C.D. has six such trials ongoing with 16 more in the pipeline.

“The cardiac team works next to the cancer stem cell team, the liver team works next to the Huntington’s team, everybody really shares ideas, and we share common achievements” says Dr. Nolta.

Inside lab refrigerators are the building blocks used in treatment trials, embryonic cells that are grown into more perfect tissues of organs.

“To be able to make a piece of functional liver in a mouse, that has all the right enzymes, that’s huge. These things live for a couple of months.”

A boost comes from Proposition 71.

It funnels three billion dollars to promote stem cell research, making California a hub for discoveries like the cardiac patch.

Dr. Nolta says “babies born with hole in the heart, there’s a de-celllularized material you can use to patch it.”

And she says we’re not far off from when this could be incorporated into mainstream medical treatment, for instance anyone who goes into the emergency room with a heart attack gets prescribed a frozen bag of stem cells.”

Cathy’s seen which way the wind is blowing and believes stem cells are the treatment of the future.

“It’s amazing to be able to think there’ll be cures for things that we can’t touch now,” says Cathy.

And the Hextells anxiously wait for science to be able to unlock the secrets stem cells might hold.

“It’s not a magic wand; it’s not going to fix every kid,” says Derak. “I think there’s a lot of research that needs to be done to figure out why it does what it does.”

Both Shadow and Dallas Hextell had the advantage of being able to use their own stem cells. Shadow’s were extracted cells, while Dallas’ came from his banked cord blood.

It is both more complicated and controversial using embryonic stem cells that have been grown into different types of cells.

With unrelated stem cells, a patient might have issues with rejection. Also, a sizeable number of Americans are opposed to using embryonic stem cells due to their source material.

If you would like to learn more about the efforts to incorporate cord blood stem cell advances in Cerebral Palsy treatments, you can find out more by visiting the Dallas Hextell Foundation website.

If you would like to learn more about the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of California Davis, you can visit their website.

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