Horizon (1964) s46e03 Episode Script

Fix Me

I felt really like I'd been dealt the worst card anyone can be dealt.
I was very much like, "I'll deal with it, but I am the most unlucky person.
" For all the wonders of modern medicine, there are some things it simply can't cure.
The condition is going to cause my demise at some point.
That does actually get you in the head you know and then you wake up and you think, "I'm here, good.
" But medical science claims to be on the verge of a revolution, one that could heal our bodies in ways never imagined before.
It's actually beating.
Isn't that cool? That is absolutely amazing.
Horizon follows three young people with currently untreatable conditions who want to be cured.
The scale of the challenge is I really just can't begin to get my head around where they start.
Where do you begin with all of this? There's no question that if there was a cure I'd find a way to get there.
Each of them will come face to face with the scientists who claim to have an answer.
Are you Dean? Hi, I am Dean.
I am Doris.
In that little bump, everything you need to know.
So we generate your leg in that bump.
I promise you that, I know that.
They need to find out if some of the promises are too good to be true.
Oh, wow, I'd say he's walking.
Or could this really be the beginning of a new age of miracle cures? There's a part of me that really thinks I will walk again.
I'd just finished school and I was really excited about the future, and going off to uni and meeting new friends and you know being able to go out clubbing all the time and not be at school.
It was just about the next phase of life.
When I was 15, 16, that's when I really started getting into rugby.
All my friends played and they stuck me out on the wing, because I was not the best catcher or kicker, but I could run quite quickly.
I've always been quite active.
I refereed, was a football referee.
Enjoyed that running around on a Saturday and Sunday, taking the boys to football and playing with them and doing you know the, what a father would do with their kids.
I never thought at all that I would be struck down with anything that was going to affect my life in the way that it did.
If someone had said, "In about two weeks time, "you're going to have a car accident to change your life," I would just God, you know, no way! God no.
You have no idea so yeah, yeah, very clueless.
All I can remember is Pete hitting my shinbone so his full weight went straight through my right shinbone and basically put what looked like a new joint in the middle of my leg.
I remember driving really fast.
I remember the music playing and I remember talking to the guy on my left, and then I turned back round and the corner was right there so I just spun the wheel too fast and lost control and and that was it, yeah.
So that's the last memory.
I don't really remember much else.
Dean was 33 when a rare condition began killing off the muscles of his heart.
I had a heart rate of 220 and I'd gone purple and the veins in my neck here had become engorged with blood because my heart wasn't able to, I know now, to pump the blood round my body.
The day before Anthony turned 18 he broke his leg in a rugby match.
It seemed like a simple injury to fix.
I remember being really shocked the first time I saw it, after it had been amputated.
I think my, my shock was quite physical.
My physio came down with me and I think she got a bit upset at my reaction to it as well.
Sophie Morgan's spinal cord was damaged in the accident, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.
The first time I got into a wheelchair, it was literally like being reborn.
It's so hard to describe but because I couldn't feel my body, I didn't know where my body was, so I was just like floating almost.
It was bizarre.
From then on I thought this is going to be weird.
All three live with conditions which for now cannot be cured, but there is one emerging area of science that connects all three, one that is promising to heal them all.
Scientists believe that the potential to repair ourselves lies at the very earliest stage of life, in a single incredible controversial cell - an embryonic stem cell.
These are the very first cells that initiate life itself, created as the fertilised egg divides in the first few days.
When you look down the microscope at embryonic stem cells, you know you can't help but just marvel at them.
What's really amazing about embryonic stem cells in particular is the fact that, that these cells can generate we think every single cell type in the body.
They are the fundamental building blocks of life because they are what at the very earliest stages will give rise to everything in the body and ultimately to you and I.
In the womb, these cells retain their ability to become any part of the body for just six days.
But medical science wants to understand and control this brief and unique ability.
We can induce these cells to divide and divide.
We can literally generate trillions and trillions and trillions of cells, and even after that huge expansion, these cells should still be capable of differentiating into every cell type in the body.
We can then begin to create cells that can repair tissues in a way that the body itself can't do.
We've never had anything like this before, and I think cells like this will completely revolutionise medicine.
The use of embryonic stem cells is controversial, but it's the promise of reversing a host of incurable conditions that's made them the holy grail of 21st century medicine .
generating a new sense of hope for people like Sophie, Dean, and Anthony.
If I could grow a leg back, I'd love to do something really I don't care what it is, just do something very simple, I'd just love to go to a beach, kick the shoes off, take the dog for a really long walk down the beach.
That, that would be the one thing that I would love to do.
But will the promise of stem cells really deliver? Will the revolution come in time? I'd like them to discover the way to cure my heart condition so I can get back to how it was beforehand.
Just to do the simple things in life with the children and just be there and be their dad.
The dreams of so many people are resting on the curative power of this extraordinary single cell.
There's a million things I'd like to do again, but definitely up there would be to be able to dance again.
Yeah that would be pretty good.
I think I'd dance until I could not dance any more.
But there's a problem because the very thing that makes embryonic stem cells so exciting also makes them incredibly difficult to control.
If I put 50,000 undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells into a mouse, I would get a tumour.
This ball of teeth, hair and muscle is the consequence of losing control of embryonic stem cells.
You know you're always constantly fighting this battle between the cells wanting to turn into organs and tissues, and you trying to block that.
That's the real problem with these cells - learning how to control that process.
How do you take a cell that wants to turn into every cell type, and turn it into only one specific cell type? It's a massively complex puzzle that scientists around the world have faced.
And the progress of work has been really painstakingly slow over the last five or six years simply because we had to learn how to work with these cells that we'd never had before.
The complexity is still expanding.
We haven't reached the end of it yet.
While scientists grapple with the problems, it's an agonising wait for people whose lives could be transformed.
As with everything else in life, it would seem that a more immediate answer lies only a click away.
"Human foetal stem cells, treatment available today.
"The future is already here.
" You see all the different things that it can help - Alzheimer's, cardiovascular diseases, cerebral palsy, diabetes, failed back surgery syndrome, spinal cord injuries and strokes.
So many people that it can help.
It's amazing isn't it? And they're all really positive.
Around the world some private clinics claim they can cure you with stem cells today.
Practising in countries with fewer regulations, these doctors appear to have all the answers right now.
And Sophie's attention has been caught by one particular doctor.
'We are dealing with patients of incurable and terminal conditions.
'Therapy here is the first of its kind in the world.
'Patients start walking which they have not done for the last five years.
' Geeta Shroff's Indian clinic claims to have already treated 500 patients successfully and the testimonies look impressive.
"My story, at the age of twenty-four I sustained a complete spinal cord injury and now" Look, there's actual videos of her walking.
Look this is a video of her.
Oh, my word! Yeah walking down.
That was in India.
She's like laughing uncontrollably, but I know, it's amazing isn't it? Amazing, and this is with Geeta Shroff? Geeta Shroff, yeah.
Although it can cost up to ã20,000 for treatment in India, the online images make it tempting.
I think it's really brave of people to take that risk and spend the money and go out to these places, and really hope and try.
And the ones that have had success - it's just fantastic.
Because every part of me thinks you know you don't have to do what you're told to do.
If someone says the treatment's out there, then go and get it.
Do you know what I mean? Just because your doctor says it's not - doctors aren't always right.
In often cases they're pretty much wrong.
The flat's so different from up here.
Sophie's heading off to find out if there really has been a breakthrough that could get her back on her feet.
Further forward, and then Like thousands of other people desperate for a cure, Sophie's not sure whether to risk going for treatment right now .
or wait for mainstream medicine to catch up.
It's so unnatural to be you know in a chair and not be able to walk and it's so, it goes against everything that makes sense really in your mind, so I don't think that coming to terms with it has actually been an option.
I really really really want to walk again.
I mean that's, that's something that I really want to happen.
You know I'm very used to being an amputee.
It's actually one of the things I'm very proud of.
This is the prosthetic running leg.
Done a couple of half marathons on this and this is a fantastic bit of kit really.
Very very rarely I'll leave home without it.
Whenever I go through airport security, I've probably got a similar amount of metal attached to my knee as you find in an AK-47 which is normally all right until you go to America and then everyone looks at you and reaches for their hip! Although Anthony has adapted to life without his leg, when he broke it, it was hard to be as stoical.
Normally you break a leg and your body sorts itself out.
In my case though there's a bit of a catalogue of errors.
A botched pinning procedure led to eighteen operations and an MRSA infection which caused the disintegration of his shinbone.
I was in pain all the time.
MRSA, it is a particularly nasty infection in terms of what it does to you and every time you thought it couldn't get any worse, it would suddenly get much, much worse.
It was a bit like a horror film in that sense.
The infected bone was lost for good and eventually amputation was the only option.
Now he's on his way to Finland to witness a remarkable procedure that could make horrific experiences like this a thing of the past.
I think it will be exciting to see this real stuff of science fiction put into practice.
But the stem cells that Anthony's about to see don't come from embryos.
Scientists have discovered another source in all of us - adult stem cells.
There are a number of different stem cell populations that are being described coming from adult tissues that we didn't know about it maybe five years ago.
So, like everything in this field, it's just an ever-expanding body of knowledge that changes very rapidly.
Adult stem cells are already more specialised which makes them less adaptable, but that also makes them easier to transform into certain types of cell.
Embryonic stem cells, we view as being the most versatile cells because they can make everything including all of these adult stem cell populations.
But adult stem cell populations in their own right have tremendous clinical utility, but for very specific clinical conditions.
Because adult stem cells are easier to control, scientists are already using them in trials with patients.
Anthony has come to Tampere University, the first place in the world claiming to have turned adult stem cells into bone.
Hello Professor Ohman.
How are you? Very well thanks, yourself? Fine thank you.
Good stuff.
He's come to their operating theatre to see the cells in action.
He's been in theatre many times, but this will be the first time he's been awake.
Should be OK in the operation, I think.
Someone catch me if I fall! Socks and leather shoes are the bane of my life, but I think it should be OK.
There you go, that should be stuck on there.
Surgeon Juha Ohman is attempting one of the first operations of its kind - rebuilding a skull using stem cells.
The patient, Marku, lost a large section of bone in his forehead through infection just like the bone in Anthony's leg.
This is the CT scan of the patient's skull and as you can see here, this is the area that is missing bone.
It's quite stark isn't it when you see it like this? Yeah.
Two weeks ago Marku had liposuction.
Fat is a great source of adult stem cells.
The 50,000 cells were then grown into 15 million in the lab.
Then a carefully balanced cocktail of growth factors was added triggering the stem cells to turn into bone, and nothing else.
Half an hour into the operation and the stem cells arrive from the lab.
Juha has exposed the area that is missing skull bone.
Stem cells.
It's quite hard and it's like, like a little bit sticky.
I see.
How long will it be before the sort of porridge becomes solid, solid bone? I think within, within three months it will be soft bone and in six months it will be bone.
The team has also grown missing sections of jawbones and soon hopes to tailor-make whole bones for transplant.
You see? Satisfied? I think it looks all right.
Good, OK.
So just finished with Marku's operation.
Obviously with me having that infection in my shinbone, I mean the same principle applies.
If someone's had the same problem in five years time, you could have a sandwich of stem cells between layers of scaffolding and then the whole shinbone's back and working again in six months.
It's very, very exciting.
Although this stem cell treatment is too late for Anthony, he's about to find out what research has been done that could help him.
Sophie's arrived in California.
She's been following online testimonies of people claiming to healed and now she's about to meet one of them face to face.
Chris Oberle who's been to see Geeta Shroff.
Oh, wow! So he's walking.
Chris paid 30,000 dollars for treatment with embryonic stem cells at the Indian clinic, with what looks like incredible results.
I'm looking forward to meeting him to ask him how much the treatment has made a difference.
If it turns out that what has happened to him is something that could happen to me, then I'd definitely look into it.
I mean I'd be there in a heartbeat if I believed in it.
Chris asked her to meet him at a local surfers' beach.
Hi! Hello.
Is this your dog? That's Bruno.
Hello Bruno! Hi, Chris.
How are you? Nice to meet you, how you doing? Good, good.
You should go out.
I'm an underwater not on top of the water kind of person.
No, no.
But the reality about any dramatic change in Chris is beginning to dawn.
I was looking at your website last night and there was a video of you walking in callipers.
When I saw it I was quite, "Wow that's amazing.
" That was a huge plus and that was something that was, I'm really glad about.
I mean that I went, that I had that experience there so A lot of the things that I was seeing in India, that they were claiming as results, I've seen people make those advances just through physical therapy.
Just through a lot of Really? It wasn't like you were cured and you could stand up and walk? No.
It's just the callipers.
Sowhat did she do? OK.
They insert a catheter into your spinal column and they insert the stem cells directly into your cord.
She just said, "Look it knows where it's needed.
"It'll home into that spot and it'll work there.
" So did you feel an immediate difference after the treatment or did it take a while? I never felt the difference.
Really? Yeah.
Really? So, yeah I never felt the difference.
So whateven afterwards, nothing? Nothing.
Really? So And I mean a lot of people do.
I just didn't so And it makes me feel like maybe I didn't do something right while I was there.
Maybe I should have been doing something differently, but I don't know what I could have done differently.
I think no.
I think after looking at Chris's website before I met him, I definitely felt encouraged I suppose, so it kind of was a disappointment, but then it's definitely not made me think, "There's no cure out there and what they're doing is not right.
" I mean I know Chris didn't have any results, but I'm sure there are people out there that have.
Sophie still doesn't know if she should go abroad for treatment and with few hard facts available, she's just as confused.
It's hard to know what's truth and what's fabrication.
It's so hard to know.
You're very much on your own if you want to go and explore those avenues.
So she's off to meet a man who has more of an overview.
Neurologist Bruce Dobkin at the University of California is the only doctor who's examined spinal cord injury patients before and after going abroad for stem cell treatment, this time in China.
So with these patients, did you see an improvement? We didn't detect any improvement.
There were some interesting things.
Two of them said they got substantially better.
One mother reported the quality of life of her son was so much better, and do you know why? Couldn't walk better, he couldn't use his bladder better.
He didn't have any less pain.
He decided to go back to school and he had a girlfriend.
And he finally decided to get on with his life, but the surgeon read the e-mail in China and said, "See, the quality of his life is better because I gave him cells.
" The statements that are made by people who are financially benefiting from drawing and attracting more people to pay more money aren't necessarily the kind of things you'd want to believe.
I think that people who have raised money from friends and family They had spent 50,000 dollars and I think when you spend that much money it's very easy to be To feel that what I did helped a little bit.
I hear this a lot.
I hear a lot of people saying that a lot of patients - it's almost like a placebo effect.
But you cannot wish a spinal cord injury better.
People will go out to these clinics and they've had improved bladder control or they've had a massive difference in things that you cannot use physiotherapy for.
And so how can you dispute that maybe there is, maybe they can, maybe it can be done? Maybe these things, the stem cell injections can actually in these, these places help people? When I talk to the people that sell cells, and then I say, "If your cells work so well, "why in the world can't we set up a small clinical trial?" They all say, "Well we're going to do that some day.
" Here's someone who's out there and saying, "My cells are so smart, "they're going to know just where to go.
"They're going to reintegrate your nervous system in that area and fix your problem.
" It's beyond science fiction.
If this works so well, why would you be afraid to do a simple trial with fifty of your subjects who would be more than happy to participate? In the absence of that it's completely unethical for physicians to be selling a treatment.
That's snake oil.
It's just that, it's terrible.
It's exploitation.
They're just playing on the hopes of these desperate people.
So awful.
Good luck.
Thank you, bye! Keep on doing well in your life.
I will.
It's been enough to make Sophie reassess if an unregulated clinic could help her walk again.
While I've always tried to have an open mind when it comes to making my mind up about where I get treated and I don't have to definitely follow the instructions of my GP or the rules that are dictated over in England and Europe, I have to say that I kind of feel like they're there for a reason and those rules are there for your protection really.
And that's why I think I should listen and not go to pursue my own little journey somewhere else over in India or China.
I should just wait until it is safe and it has been tested.
It's made Sophie understand the need for regulated trials.
She's lost hope in an immediate cure.
It was just too It was just too much luck.
I don't know, it was just too good to be true.
She's now going to find out just how close mainstream science is to getting her back on her feet.
The promise of stem cells is tantalising, but uncertain, for the people who could be healed.
But the scientists are confident that this revolution in medicine will happen.
Up until very recently our whole way of treating disease has been to treat the symptoms of a disease.
What regenerative medicine using stem cells addresses is actually getting at the underlying causes of the disease and not just treating the symptoms, but actually undoing the damage.
For Sophie and Anthony, stem cells could improve their lives.
But for Dean, a breakthrough could save him from an early death.
The condition is going to cause my demise at some point.
That does get you in the head and you wake up and you think, "I'm here, good.
" Come on Bill, you got to land one! Five years ago family man Dean was diagnosed with a rare heart condition - dilated cardiomyopathy, which could cause death at any moment.
Leaving the children behind, not seeing them grow up, you know, it's really quite difficult to think about it now because it's quite emotional.
Although drugs have stabilised Dean's condition, the gradual death of muscle cells have permanently weakened his heart.
But Dean's condition may also leave his children with a terrifying legacy.
For each of his kids, there's a 50% chance that Dean's passed it onto them.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't do anything differently in my life with you lot.
I would still have you, because I love you all to bits and you're important to me, but as a parent the most difficult thing that you could possibly do is pass something down.
It's something that only God knows why because we've got no control over it, but if I've passed something You can't help it.
I can't, but if I've passed something down and I haven't taken the steps to protect you, it would be so bad.
Dean's going to find out if stem cells can save him and maybe his children.
For now, a heart transplant offers the only permanent solution, but he is on his way to witness a pioneering trial that may lead to the cure he needs.
You know beforehand I've just been relying on the drugs that I've been given but that just stabilises my condition.
If this can help repair it then this is a fantastic day, not just for me, but for a lot of other people as well.
Dean's come to the London Chest Hospital to meet cardiologist Dr Anthony Mathur who's conducting one of the first ever trials to see if adult stem cells can improve damaged hearts.
Hi, Dean! Hi, Dr Mathur! Welcome to the London Chest.
Thank you.
So you've come to see what we're up to with our stem cell trials? Yeah.
What are you doing today then? We're trying to ask the question whether using your own stem cells, not embryonic or anything like that, but your own stem cells, purifying them and putting them back into the heart can actually lead to an improvement in heart function.
So is this something that could help me in the future? Yeah.
At the moment we're testing it in people who have been told they have no other option and so what we've done is we've set up a trial in which we randomise the patients to receive either cells or a placebo injection.
I know some people find that a bit of a strange concept, that we're giving a placebo, but really in medical trials it's the only way you can actually work out whether your therapy has made a difference.
Six months ago Brian had stem cells removed from his bone marrow for his procedure.
He then had a series of injections into his damaged heart.
As the patient's own stem cells are used, there's no issue of the body rejecting them.
You all right there, Brian? OK.
We're about to start.
Obviously you might feel your heart jumping around a bit.
Today Dr Mathur is creating a detailed map of Brian's heart function with a special electrode to see if there's been any improvement.
Really interesting.
It's fantastic to see it in 3D.
Yeah the picture slowly building as he's Virtually finished.
Just a little bit more, so if you just want to tidy it up, I want to take the catheter out and then we'll get Dean in to show him the map, yeah? Red is bad.
Red is part of the heart that's been badly damaged.
Blue and purple is good, and green is that part of the heart that sort of can't make its mind up.
It's not alive enough but equally it hasn't been lost.
That's the bit you're looking to work on.
That's the bit, yeah.
And what happens in the green zone is that although the heart is alive, it doesn't work.
The hope is that the stem cells will regenerate dormant heart cells in this green border zone, and improve heart function.
But the rigorous rules of a double blind trial mean that Dr Mathur isn't allowed to see his results until the last patient has been treated.
Will you have any idea from the patients that you've already seen if they've had the placebo or if they've had the.
? Have you got any hunches at all? I've got absolutely no idea at all.
I think what's really fascinating is that in the group of people who are predicted to continue to deteriorate because they have such bad heart disease, we do see people who get better.
This trial may be just a first step, but if stem cells can reverse heart damage, the implications for people like Dean and possibly his children are enormous.
What they're doing is going to change the future for a lot of people and you can only be optimistic.
You know it might not.
I'm a realist, it might not happen in my lifetime, but to think that they're doing that and it would be for my children's lifetime and my grandchildren's lifetime, is absolutely fantastic.
But with the trial results only available next year, Dean needs to see if there are more immediate ways of helping his precariously damaged heart.
What makes stem cells so special is not just their potential to cure us from disease.
Scientists also think they could give us the ability to regrow whole body parts.
In America, research is already underway attempting to help people like Anthony grow back a limb.
Anthony is about to meet a scientist who claims to have evidence that amputations could one day be reversible.
Welcome, nice to meet you finally.
It is indeed, Anthony.
Biologist David Gardiner at the University of California has dedicated his career to an intriguing little creature with a very unusual ability, one that suggests we may all have the potential to heal ourselves when seriously injured.
If it weren't for these animals, and you said, "I think we can regrow an arm or a leg," people would say you are crazy, right? Because, because then you'd have to have just made it up.
I have this idea that maybe this is possible to do, but we don't have to do that because we have these.
These are axolotls, they're salamanders and, and they can do it.
Salamanders have regenerating abilities that far exceed those of other vertebrates, but this particular breed of salamander, called an axolotl and found in only certain lakes in Mexico, trumps them all.
So this is you.
I mean basically I mean it has its arms amputated, but you can do the same thing on the leg.
And I'll show it to you if I can get this guy without Slippery.
Yeah they are.
Ah! I can do this.
This is an animal that you know was amputated yesterday.
Oh, right.
Does that look familiar? That does look familiar.
You wake up every morning and you see that.
Already in twenty-four hours, those cells are beginning to go down this regeneration pathway and But what you see there is just a stump.
And this is, this is only about ten days later.
It's a lot of difference isn't it? This is, you know, starting to grow out and it's actually starting to flatten a little bit because it's going to make the hand and our hands are flat and thin.
And they always grow back exactly what you cut off.
And they don't grow back more, and they don't grow back less.
Just how the salamander is able to regrow amputated limbs is something that has huge implications for people like Anthony.
The answer seems to lie in what happens just after injury.
So say for a salamander, does any sort of protective covering form over a stump whatsoever? Are they prone to infection or complications? Yeah wellthey don't make scars.
When your leg's amputated, it closes over, makes a scar and that's it.
And this animal closes it over and the same cells, they're not magic cells, those same cells that made the scar here like, here they form the blastema.
These are the cells that they migrate and they begin to proliferate and they become like stem cells.
It's very, very much like stem cells.
They have the ability to remake the basic pattern of the limb.
All the evidence is that that's the same as what happened when you were an embryo.
This bump here and the limb bud in an embryo are the same structures and that's really important.
Remarkably salamanders have somehow retained their embryonic ability to marshal the body's stem cells and regenerate even when seriously injured, an ability we have in the womb for the first few months of life but then lose.
Scientists believe that if we could retain that ability, we too could have limitless capacity for regeneration.
Can you picture a time when humans would be able to you know grow back a whole, a whole limb? In that little bump, everything you need to know to regenerate your leg is in that bump you know? I promise you that, I know that.
Amazing thinking that here we've got our model for regrowing a limb and it's in this six inch long sort of pink amphibian that can just do it at will.
Scientists are already attempting to replicate how salamanders regrow limbs.
Anthony is on his way to the American army's medical research facility in Fort Sam, Texas.
This is where soldiers end up after losing limbs on the battlefield.
Anthony has special access to the radical research which is attempting to unlock our dormant ability to regenerate.
It's just mind-blowing when you think of what a leg is made of.
I really just can't begin to get my head around where they start.
Where do you begin with all of this? Anthony is meeting the surgeon that the US military's research arm is putting their money behind.
Dr Steve Wolf is putting his faith in a special substance they've named pixie dust which doesn't contain any actual stem cells.
Right, so this is the stuff.
So what we do is we take an open wound, so we cut open something and so you've got a wound surface like this and you take this powder and just pack it on there.
Then what happens we think is that it gets populated by stem cells.
The pixie dust is derived from high protein pigs' bladders.
When it's placed in a wound, the pixie dust releases chemical signals that act as a homing signal for all the stem cells in the body to regenerate rather than scar.
The stem cells are circulating around in all of us all the time, and the cells come in and they say, "I'm not in scar, I'm in something else - I'm supposed to regenerate.
" Right.
But that's the general idea, is that this provides an environment that's not scarred to begin with.
The US military is so excited with the promise the powder holds that it's begun human trials, starting with fingers.
If this works, it could be a step towards Anthony regrowing his leg.
He's meeting Sergeant Shilo Harris, the first man they started treating.
There he is, right there.
How you doing? Hello, good morning to you.
Had to bring the whole crew today.
If it could have been just me, we might have been here sooner.
What's your name? Albert.
Albert, that's cool.
And Nicholas.
And Nicolas.
And what's your name? Elizabeth.
Hello Elizabeth.
I'm Anthony by the way, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
Do you mind telling me what happened to sort of get injured? I'll tell you loosely what happened since my kids are here.
It was kind of an ambush scenario.
Two dismounts and my driver and I were the only two that survived and anyway fortunately both of us were sent here.
I'm not going to sugar-coat it.
There was days that I was ready to give up, there was days that I didn't want to get out of bed, but these three children and my wife, they helped me push through and here I am.
And here I am a guinea pig, I guess I'm So as you can see, Shilo's missing things and what we did was this was back about right here before, and that's, we think about a half inch, give or take, longer than it was before.
When we first started it was pretty much flat across.
You couldn't see a hump.
Dr Wolf opened the wound and applied doses of powder which he hoped would attract Shilo's own stem cells to start regrowing the finger.
We can see like a peak of tissue just growing like a little I don't know, it was really weird.
And it wasn't granulation tissue, it had a different appearance.
It was a growth and you know it was really awesome so that really got us fired up about that.
You can feel it, it's kind of hard.
Oh, yeah.
So you know I think it's like the, the bone you know getting solid in there.
It's trying to form.
It's the first shot at this and I think in the If this works 10, 20 years from now it will be much easier to do.
This small amount of growth is just the result of Shilo's first treatment with the powder, but he'll be back for more.
It's left Anthony wondering what it could mean for him.
It was very nice to meet you.
Nice meeting you too.
What they're doing with this dust in terms of just, just the very start of the research, growing back bits of finger maybe a centimetre or so of bone, a little bit of muscle going on in there as well - in its infancy the research is incredible.
But in terms of growing legs back, although it does seem like a possibility, the real question is the time line and it's going to be a slow process but one that eventually they seem confident it'll get to.
Dean's come to the University of Minnesota in the States to visit Dr Doris Taylor whose team is working on something from the realms of science fiction - attempting to grow new hearts in the lab.
Are you Dean? Hi, I'm Dean.
I'm Doris.
How you doing? Come on in.
Thank you.
This is my lab.
What we've tried to do is realise that for people with end stage heart failure, really the only true treatment is a transplant.
That's right yeah, that's what I've been told.
So there are not enough hearts to go round.
Our goal is to try to build a heart in the lab.
It's absolutely amazing.
What we believe is you need cells and you need a scaffold on which you can put those cells because cells in a dish alone don't make a heart, right? We said nature's already built the perfect scaffold.
We don't know how to, we don't have to learn how to do it.
So But look at this.
This is a rat's heart but, this is why, because literally we're removing all the cells and all that's left is what we call the extra-cellular matrix, the protein underneath that the cells sit on.
Now we can take that scaffold and transplant cells back on.
So that's the "before".
Let me show you the "after".
Now this is only a few days old so it's not perfect yet, but you can see this heart and it's not quite like the other one, and you can see it's actually moving.
It's is it actually beating? Yeah.
It's fantastic.
Isn't that cool? That is cool.
That is absolutely amazing.
I'm in awe, Doris, I am because that is absolutely amazing.
The inert heart scaffold has been brought back to life with adult stem cells harvested from another rat.
This is nature's tool and there seem to be cues in there from nature that tell the cells where to go and what to do.
I don't know, have you ever held a heart before? The next step for Doris towards making hearts for people is to scale the technique up using a heart from a pig.
So you can put your hand under it and there you go.
That's the scaffold we would use to build you a heart.
So that's with all the cells removed? Right.
And that's ready to take the new cells? Right.
The hope is that someone comes to us, they need a heart, we find a pig scaffold.
We remove all the cells, we get stem cells from them.
We put the cells back in, we grow the heart, we mature it, we clean it up and it's ready for transplant.
That's the hope, and because it matches their body as their cells, they don't need to take harsh immuno or anti-rejection drugs.
It's amazing.
I can't explain to you how it feels to be standing here looking at this, that this you know could be the future, that it could cure me and get me back to the life that I had ten years ago.
I mean it's, it's you're the reason we're doing what we're doing.
It's pretty amazing to get to talk with you and it's It's pretty amazing to get to talk to you.
It's humbling for me to know that you're, doing this for people like me.
And if anything you're researching stem cells, but what you're actually doing is you're creating hope.
Oh, wow! You're creating hope for hundreds of thousands of people.
Thank you.
Do you do hugs? Yeah I do hugs.
For Anthony and Dean, the potential of stem cell treatment is still some way off.
However for Sophie, there may be a more immediate hope, but one that depends on more than medical science alone.
Because embryonic stem cells require scientists to source them from human embryos, they have triggered huge controversy.
Research in America was severely restricted for years.
Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of life.
The ethical landscape around embryonic stem cells in particular has always been contentious.
It's been at times a very hard battle to convince people that this is appropriate research that should be done.
You really have to work hard to sell the benefits, potential benefits of this research.
The controversy held back research, but now the whole field could be about to change.
I am a strong supporter of stem cell research.
With attitudes changing, a Californian biotech company called Geron is on the brink of being given the green light by the US authorities to begin the world's first human trial using embryonic stem cells, and it's for people with spinal cord injury, like Sophie.
It's taken Geron a very, very large amount of money, a huge amount of animal data, something like 22,000 pages of documentation to convince the FDA that this trial should go ahead and I think this really represents kind of a watershed moment in stem cell biology.
Geron's pioneering trial could make or break the whole field of embryonic stem cell treatment.
If successful, it could lead to a flood of cures for other diseases, from blindness to diabetes.
For me it means that there could be treatment.
I'm not expecting to come away and sort of think, "Oh, that's the man that's going to cure me," but it's at the same time very exciting.
You can't get help but get your hopes up.
Sophie is meeting Professor Hans Keirstead from the University of California, the scientist behind it all.
Hi, hi how you doing? Good to meet you.
Welcome to the centre.
Thank you very much.
It's really smart.
Yeah it's not bad.
Exciting stuff going on? Lots of stuff going on.
I've been hearing about it.
This is the Reeve Irvine Research Center.
I didn't realise it was to do with Christopher Reeve.
there's a picture of him here.
Do you want to see the laboratories? Yeah definitely.
Let's do it.
This is the first lab in the world to announce they've found a way to safely treat humans with embryonic stem cells.
They claim to have mastered a technique to turn them permanently into spinal cord cells before transplanting them into the body.
So what have you got to show me on the computer? This is a summary of the work that we did that led to this clinical trial, so what you see here is a rat that has an impaired ability to walk, so its belly is down, its tail's down and it's Dragging itself almost.
Yeah, it's dragging itself.
If you imagine that these are your brain signals moving down your spinal cord conducting electricity, they do so because they're insulated, like a wire in a wall is insulated.
I discovered, with a number of other researchers around the world, that that insulation is lost after injury.
That's a therapeutic target, so that's why we took stem cells, made them into the cell type that makes the insulation.
When we put them in, they restored the electrical conductivity after wrapping the wires or axons of the central nervous system and the effects on the animal was awesome.
I still remember the, the first days when my animal team would come upstairs and say we broke the code.
That was amazing.
That must have been amazing.
Yeah it was amazing.
It really worked.
God, so now what the human trial is doing is taking Explain to me what's going on.
Well, there are several centres in the United States that are preparing to recruit patients, and the first patients are going to get transplanted with these cells within months, so it's imminent, just happening now.
And you have high hopes obviously? I've got very high hopes.
I realistically think that we're going to get an incremental advance.
It's not going to take people out of chairs playing soccer overnight.
It's not.
There's no way it can do that, but I think what it will do is restore some sensory Some motor.
I mean could you imagine me being able to walk again? I mean is that something that you could.
? I wouldn't be here if I didn't.
It's such a big thing for you to say.
Yeah, it is a big thing to say.
I have every bit of confidence that spinal cord injury will be treatable at any stage of its course.
A year, a decade, two decades after.
The face of spinal cord injury is now for ever changed.
That's amazing.
There's more people.
It's going to be different.
It's only twelve years since human embryonic stem cells were first successfully grown in the lab and now it seems that medical science could finally be on the brink of a complete transformation.
So I mean we're talking about a fundamental revolution in medicine.
In the next 10 to 20 years this field will just be massive.
It's just going to fundamentally change the way we treat patients, the way we look at disease, the way we age and will have major implications for society.
Seeing the beating heart in Doris's lab has given Dean confidence that one day his own heart will be fixed.
It's breath-taking, inspirational.
There's so many words that you could pick out of the English dictionary to describe the lady and her team.
I'm really quite lost for many of them which is much of a first for me, but absolutely fantastic.
What a trip, what a journey.
She's brilliant.
For Anthony, the whole journey has given him an insight into the size of the task that scientists face in attempting to regenerate limbs.
What they have found is that there's going to be a long research journey.
You know, another sort of 10, 20 years down the line, this science fiction does become science fact.
But confronted by the prospect of regaining his leg, he's been thinking more deeply about what it means to be an amputee.
I don't feel there are many difficult situations that can be thrown my way now that I don't think I could overcome, and maybe if I had a leg back, my concern is that I might lose something that's integral to me as a person.
So right now, I think it's I'm happy as I am.
I'm happy with my wooden leg.
But for Sophie, what she has discovered about stem cell research has made her change the way she thinks about her future.
At the beginning I think I was looking more for an immediate change and a cure, and I think now I know that that's a very, very dangerous thing to do.
So I think I'm a lot happier, a lot more settled.
I've made my decision and just sit back and wait till the time is right which I kind of have this feeling is not going to be too long.
It will be something that's going to happen for me in my lifetime, I think.
I hope anyway.