Cell Therapy: In a Pig's Nose

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If it's Friday, it must be pig cells. After Thursday's debacle over the supposed fusing of genetic tissue from a man and a cow, another small biotech firm has stepped up to the plate with a possible use for barnyard-animal DNA. But Alexion Pharmaceuticals' research, backed up by Yale's School of Medicine, is just a little more credible -- if no less fantastic. Cells from genetically altered pigs have helped heal spinal cord injuries in lab rats, and may do the same for humans -- offering a tiny ray of hope to millions of paralyzed people around the world.

Specially enhanced to resist rejection by the host body, the nerve cells -- taken from the pig's snout, no less -- not only restored the spine's protective sheath, but actually caused the spinal cord to regenerate itself. Researchers have already started testing the technique on monkeys; early results have been positive. Soon, they expect to move on to humans. But Alexion CEO Dr. Leonard Bell sounded a note of caution: "The best-case scenario is that patients may expect to become somewhat more independent in their everyday living but maybe not entirely independent," he said. Realistic expectations in cell technology -- now, that's refreshing.