Local researchers testing stem cells for brain injury

February 1, 2011 4:30:47 AM PST
Houston researchers are testing stem cells taken from a child's own body and using them to heal an injured brain. We have the amazing story of one child's recovery from brain injury and how his parents believe it was because he was in a stem cell study. Talon Dyer was nine years old when he was critically wounded in a head-on car wreck.

"I just remember waking up and saying, 'Why can't I move my left side?'" he said.

"This is where his head hit the car in the accident," said Bryant Dyer, Talon's father, as he pointed to his son's head. "That section right there was actually crushed into multiple pieces."

He had two concussions and a possible stroke. Neurologists said expect brain damage.

"If he lived, he was gonna be probably paralyzed on his entire left side for the rest of his life," Bryant said.

So how did Talon go from brain damage and near death back to his normal life?

"I have no question that he benefited from the stem cells," said Brandon's mother, Rhonda.

Talon received stem cells taken from his own bone marrow. They were processed and re-injected within 48 hours. It was a first of its kind study. Ten children were in the UT Health study at Memorial Hermann.

The results?

"Depending on the observer, 8 or 9 of 10 in the good outcome category," said Dr. Charles Cox, who conducted the small safety study.

It has been two-and-a-half years since Talon received stem cells for his brain injury. Dr. Cox is opening a new lab in preparation for more studies because the UT researchers believe they're on the right track.

"There is this continued improvement that we didn't otherwise expect," said Dr. Cox.

This was just the first study. They're planning a follow-up and they may vary the stem cells and the timing or the doses. And they're working on an adult study, too.

Scientists are careful not to overstate the role of the stem cells. But Talon's parents are convinced. His mother, Rhonda, is a nurse.

"I've worked with patients with head injuries and they're still recovering from it," she said. "They're in the hospital weeks, months. He walked out in eight days."

So today Talon is another 12-year-old who must endure the occasional hug from his parents.

"We do feel incredibly lucky," said Bryant. "Not only can we hug him, he can hug us back."

And they hope this research will help other children with brain injuries, too.

"If this worked on me, it might be able to help save other people," said Talon.