June 09 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Health & Medicine Year: General Rating: 11 Hot
By Dick Pelletier
Over the next 12 years, biotech and stem cell research could enable doctors to replace aging skin, bone, and organs on demand, thus restoring many ‘boomers and seniors alive today to a healthy, more youthful state.
Already successful in replacing damaged heart tissue, stem cells might also tip the scales in the war against cancer. Scientists recently discovered that these proliferating wonders are the source of most cancers. At the heart of every tumor lie a handful of aberrant stem cells that feed malignant tissues.
Whitehead Institute’s Robert Weinberg believes this explains why tumors often reappear after chemotherapy and radiation seemingly destroyed them. It also suggests new strategy for developing anti-cancer drugs: focus more on attacking cancer stem cells and not, as at present, killing just any cells to shrink tumors.
On another front, Indiana University’s Dr. Michael Murphy uses stem cells to treat a debilitating cardiovascular condition called peripheral arterial disease, which causes poor blood circulation in the legs, resulting in sores, ulcers; even amputations.
He and his colleagues use adult stem cells to create healthy cells in the lining of blood vessels. They extract cells from bone marrow, then process and inject them into patients’ legs. Every patient in the tests experienced positive benefits. (cont.)
However, all is not rosy for stem cell science. The Bush administration’s prohibition on government funding for research with new embryonic stem cell lines has weakened the U.S. position as world leader in medical breakthroughs.
This research needs greater federal funding in order to succeed. Unless congress wants Americans to purchase all their pharmaceuticals from other countries, the way we rely on the Middle East for oil, the Chinese for manufactured goods, and the Indians for IT needs, the government might want to re-examine its stance.
But this controversy will not end anytime soon. Many religious doctrines state “life begins at conception”. When researchers clone an embryo and extract its stem cells, its activities cease. This, opponents say, is destroying a potential human life. Advocates counter that the embryo does not achieve “personhood”; it is only a medical tool created to save human lives.
Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, normally a strong anti-technology voice, described his view towards embryonic stem cell research by relating this hypothetical scenario: “A building is burning down. Several small children are inside screaming for help. The building also contains a freezer storing a dozen or so frozen embryos. Which do you save first”?
When facing death, some people search for help abroad. Singer Don Ho recently underwent stem cell therapy in Bangkok to correct cardiomyopathy, a serious heart disease. At 75, he joked and said he was not ready to quit life; he wants to be around for at least another 30 years.
Suffering from late-stage cancer of the esophagus and given only months to live, retired engineer Hashmukh Patel flew to Beijing for the world’s first commercially available gene-therapy drug, Gendicine. It’s a bit pricey at $20,000 for the two-month treatment, he said, but when death is the alternate, the decision was easy.
Stem cell research promises huge benefits. It will vanquish many of our ills and provide great health as we head into what surely will be considered a “magical future”. Comments welcome.