Stem cell success: One couple’s effort to protect their son from fatal nerve disease will help other boys too

In U-M MStem Cell lab, donated embryo leads to stem cell line that generates nerve cells for U-M scientists & others worldwide to study

University of Michigan alumna Brooke Kendrick and her husband Stephen were ready to start a family.

But a devastating inherited nerve disease runs in her family, affecting her brother and threatening to kill or cripple any male child she has. So, the couple chose to conceive via in vitro fertilization, to have their embryos tested for the genetic defect, and to implant only disease-free ones.

Now, as they get ready to celebrate the first birthday of their healthy son Gus, and the arrival of his sibling  conceived the same way, they know that they’ve stopped adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, from traveling further down their family line.

But at the same time, they’ve done something extraordinary for all families whose boys have ALD, whose men (like Brooke’s brother) have a less-severe form called AMN, or whose women and girls carry the genetic trait and might pass it on.

By donating the disease-affected embryos that they didn’t want to a U-M Medical School lab, they’ve made it possible for scientists to study ALD in its earliest stages.

The lab, called the MStem Cell Laboratories, derived embryonic stem cells from the embryo, and coaxed them to grow into nerve cells.

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Friday, January 23, 2015