Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

It saved Ciaran, but America split on stem-cell cure

When news emerged last week that 13-year-old Ciaran Finn-Lynch is healthy two years on from having revolutionary stem-cell surgery to replace his windpipe, Atlanta's Erica Lyles Greene, whose brother underwent a similar procedure last November, had words of praise for the teen.

"Thank you for being so brave," Erica said of young Ciaran. "He did it two years ago. And how amazing is it that he is alive and well? This is exactly what my brother had hoped for."

Christopher Lyles (30) was diagnosed with a rare form of tracheal cancer in June 2011. Over the next three months, he endured 33 rounds of radiation treatment and seven of chemotherapy.

Finally, his doctors informed him that the tumour was too big to operate on and that they could do no more.

Erica and an aunt began trawling the internet for possible cures, when they came across Dr Paolo Macchiarini, the director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was at the cutting-edge of tracheal transplants.

Amazingly, in spite of the fact that reports about Dr Macchiarini's work were easily found on the internet, Christopher's doctors hadn't a clue about it.

"They had no idea that someone was performing tracheal transplants," Erica said. "And they said 'It's in Europe. Why are you looking there? That's kinda kooky.' And we said 'No, it's not'."

Stem-cell research has been contested terrain in America for decades. The battle has largely revolved around the issue of embryonic stem-cells.

Pro-life activists have waged a very active campaign to block the use of embryonic stem-cell use, insisting that life begins at conception and that destroying an embryo is, therefore, taking a human life.

Stem-cell research in the US still lags behind efforts in other parts of the world.

Last November, Christopher travelled to Stockholm for a 12-hour operation, which saw him fitted with a new lab-gown trachea that was created using his own stem-cells.

Although the operation was a success, Christopher later suffered a series of infections that weakened him. He died in March.

Erica said that, until the end, her brother remained a passionate advocate of stem-cell therapy.

"He always said that he was doing it for the greater good; that people in the US need to know that the resources are out there."

For Rebecca Carr, a spokesperson for the foundation that helped raise the funds needed for Christopher's operation, success stories like his can only boost the prospects of such procedures occurring in America some day.

"I think that people with similar conditions are watching anytime there is a surgery like this," said Ms Carr. "They were watching with Christopher Lyles and they're watching with this boy. And it's definitely inspiring.''

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