A few years ago, University alum Brooke Kendrick pursued in vitro fertilization to conceive her first child. Now, her excess embryos are helping researchers study the neurological disorder adrenoleukodystrophy.
Kendrick, a carrier of the disorder, was able to prevent her son from being born with ALD through in vitro fertilization. The process allows the physician to detect the embryos that carry the disease and separate them from the healthy embryos, which are then used for conception.
Rather than disposing the disease-affected embryos, the Kendricks decided to donate them through the ALD Foundation to the University’s MStem Cell Laboratories. Kendrick said she and her husband wanted to let the public know about ALD and contribute to the search for a cure.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to help, to educate people on it,” Kendrick said. “And the best possible outcome came from this, I mean they were able to use the embryo to derive the cell line and could figure out why children get it.”
ALD is a genetically transmitted disease that damages nerves and muscle control. According to the ALD Foundation, the disease is found in one out of every 17,900 boys. It is more prevalent among males than females. Aside from loss of muscle control, the disease can lead to loss of sight, hearing and is potentially fatal.
Kendrick is a seventh-grade schoolteacher in New Jersey who graduated from the University’s School of Education in 2005. Kendrick discovered she was a carrier of ALD ten years ago. When she found out, she decided the safest choice for her and her husband to conceive would be through in vitro fertilization.
“It wasn’t really a decision, it was just the responsible thing to do,” Kendrick said. “I didn’t know ten years ago that this would even be an option and that we could do in vitro and genetic graining. But once we learned that was available, again it wasn’t really a choice. It was the right decision.”
The in vitro fertilization was successful in preventing the proliferation of ALD from mother to son. The Kendricks’ son Gus is a healthy, disease-free child.
Using the embryos, researchers at MStem were able to develop stem cell lines to observe the development and progression of the disease to see how to best treat symptoms and potentially cure the disease.
Gary Smith, director of the MStem Cell Laboratories, said the lab focuses a lot on neurodegenerative diseases.
The lab opened in 2009 after the Michigan voters passed of the Michigan Stem Cell Amendment in 2008. The constitutional amendment made it legal to conduct research on human embryos and produce human embryonic stem cells. For this reason, researchers like Smith can now work with diseased embryos to create stem cells.
“The unique aspect with regards to the embryonic stem cell line is that they are made from embryos that otherwise would have been discarded as they have already been tested and are known to carry the genetic mutation for, in most instances, a very fatal disease,” Smith said.