Researchers are discovering that the use of
embryonic cells is no longer necessary for the
treatment of many dreaded maladies.
Opponents battle against the use of embryonic stem cells because of the ethical ramifications and belief that when you are dealing with an embryonic stem cell, you are dealing with a human life. But the argument against embryonic stem-cell research eventually could be a moot point.
Among stem-cell experts, the tide is swiftly moving from embryonic to adult stem cells because adult cells are safer than embryonic stem cells, and they simply work better.
Christian Drapeau, a California scientist whose book, Cracking the Stem Cell Code: Demystifying the Most Dramatic Scientific Breakthrough of Our Time, explains some of the advances in adult stem-cell research, suggests that the science of nonembryonic stem cells has come a long way in a short period of time.
"We've never seen anything quite like this in the clinical world," he tells Newsmax. "It's the future of medicine. Unfortunately to date, because of government bureaucracy and Food and Drug Administration restrictions, there are clinical trials and a lot of research going on here, but most of the actual treatments are still only available outside the U.S."
It was University of Pittsburgh researchers who first discovered stem cells in fat in 2006. Subsequently, Vet-Stem, a San Diego biotech firm founded by veterinarian Robert Harman, got an exclusive patent to treat animals with their own fat-derived cells and has since successfully treated more than 6,800 horses and dogs for various degenerative diseases, including bowed tendons, ligament injuries, and osteoarthritis.
In humans, non-embryonic stem cells can be culled from umbilical cords, the placenta, amniotic fluid, adult tissues, bone marrow, fat from liposuction, regions of the nose, teeth, and even from cadavers up to 20 hours after death.
In just the last few years, a whole new set of non-embryonic, stemcell-based treatments has emerged worldwide for diseases and maladies such as spinal cord injury, cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, blindness, multiple sclerosis, autism, and AIDS.
These are some of the other most recent developments in nonembryonic stem-cell treatments and research around the world:
- All-new trachea from a boy's own stem cells: In London this spring, a 10-year-old boy made history when he received a new trachea from his own stem cells. He is reportedly the first child to be given a new windpipe, which will grow inside his body.
- Blinded in Italy can see: Dozens of people who were blinded or suffered severe eye damage when they were splashed with caustic chemicals had their sight restored with transplants of their own stem cells. The treatment worked completely in 82 of 107 eyes and partially in 14 others. A man whose eyes were damaged more than 60 years ago now has near-normal vision.
- Autistic now can read: In Coast Rica, Kenneth Kelley, a 9-year-old autistic child from Bangor, Maine, received a stem-cell treatment for autism in July and is now reading for the first time, the boy's parents tell WLBZ-TV in Maine. Kenneth is reportedly one of less than 100 people nationwide to be treated with adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood in an effort to help him recover from autism.
- Artificial stem-cell corneas: Sankara Nethralaya, an ophthalmic care facility in India, announced a collaboration with International Stem Cell Corporation in Oceanside, Calif., to develop stem-cell-derived corneal tissue to treat corneal blindness and vision impairment. This tissue offers the first opportunity for high-quality, transplantation tissue for the 10 million people worldwide suffering from corneal vision impairment.
Closer to home, debate over embryonic stem-cell research is likely heading to the Supreme Court. President Barack Obama reversed the Bush administration's 2001 ban on taxpayer funding of embryo research, and that reversal was met with injunctions followed by appeals in recent months.
And while adult stem cells face stringent regulations and restrictions by the FDA, research and clinical trials are increasing at a rapid pace.
In Ann Arbor, Mich., Aastrom Biosciences announced that it will pursue a Phase 3 clinical program for its adult stem-cell therapy to treat critical limb ischemia, the most severe form of peripheral vascular disease, which leads to more than 160,000 major limb amputations per year in America.
Meanwhile, adult stem cells are showing great promise in healing our troops. The military is working on creating artificial limbs and muscles for wounded warriors, and this summer the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command awarded Biotech company NeoStem a $700,000 contract to advance adult stem-cell therapies in treating traumatic wounds.
"Wound healing could represent just the beginning of more collaborative projects involving other clinical indications, such as spinal cord injuries and retinal damage, both of which affect American warriors who serve our country," Robin Smith, NeoStem's CEO, said in a statement.
San Francisco-based Institute for Regenerative Medicine, an early champion of embryonic stem-cell research, has quietly diverted funds from embryonic to adult stem-cell research, as have other California biotech companies and universities.
At the University of California in Irvine, researchers have announced that they have discovered the method and mechanisms by which adult stem cells can repair and replace damaged tissue in the brain.
Dr. Bernadine Healy, director of the National Institutes of Health under the Bush administration, wrote in a March 2009 U.S. News & World Report column that "embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes, are obsolete."
In her book The Summer of Superheroes and the Making of Iron Boy, Mary Webb, whose 4-year-old son Quentin was suffering from leukemia, writes about his remarkable victory using cord and placenta blood stem cells. She tells Newsmax she wrote the book to create awareness. "I'm not that educated or savvy, but I do know that Americans are behind the curve when it comes to stem cells, which are saving lives," she says. "My son is living proof."