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Embryonic Stem Cell Treatments Show Promise for Degenerative Diseases and Paralysis - Alzheimer's Parkinson's Cancer Heart Disease and More

February 26th 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Treatments Show Promise for Degenerative Diseases and Paralysis - Alzheimer's Parkinson's Cancer Heart Disease and More

Embryonic Stem Cells

Stem cell research and treatment may yield extraordinary results for ailments including heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and diabetes.  Embryonic stem cells also show promise for people that are paralyzed. 

The CBS News program 60 minutes ran a segment on the subject Sunday night.  Ed Bradley’s report included an interview with Dr. Hans Keirstead, a 38-year-old biologist, who said he is ready to try a stem cell procedure on people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.  The doctor’s earlier trial showed success in treating a laboratory rat whose hind legs were completely paralyzed. 

Amazingly, after injecting the rat with human embryonic stem cells, the paralyzed rat was able to move its hind legs.  Dr. Keirstead told Mr. Bradley that “If it does the same thing in humans, I think we’ve hit something here that’s gonna be truly remarkable."  He hopes to begin clinical trials on patients that have recently been paralyzed first.


Since embryonic stem cells are capable of becoming any type of cell in the body, and can be grown in infinite numbers, there are numerous potential applications.  Possible applications include the treatment of incurable diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.  Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Robert Robbins, chair of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford University, is hoping to use stem cells to repair damaged hearts. Dr. Robbins has developed stem cells that “make up the heart muscle cells.”  He hopes to inject these cells directly into human hearts that have suffered damage. 

Dr. Robbins has already injected cells into the hearts of mice with severe cardiac disease.  Six weeks later the new heart cells had “replaced the damaged ones, and heart function was restored to near normal.” 


There are some dangers.  Some fear the cells could form tumors or other abnormal cells. But according to CBS News, most scientists have confidence in the enormous potential of stem cells.

There are ethical questions that arise from the procedures.  Many people believe that an embryo is a living human being, and destroying an embryo for any reason is morally wrong. 

Stem cells are not only found in embryos, but adult humans also have stem cells.  These cells may act as some sort of back-up, so if a particular kind of cell needs replacing, the adult stem cells can differentiate and form those cells.  The problem is that adult stem cells are multipotent (as opposed to totipotent - total potent embryonic stem cells) and can only form a limited number of cell types.    

According to WebMD, unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have some advantages.  Since they are from your own body, they are less likely to be rejected.  If you use cells that are not part of your body, they may be attacked by the immune system.

The adult stem cells have limitations though.  So far, they have only be shown to form skin cells, liver cells, and a few other cells.  Also, adult stem cells take longer to grow.  Embryonic cells can divide indefinitely and can potentially treat a “limitless” number of diseases. The embryonic stem cells can be stored easily and used whenever a sick person came to the doctor.

It is hoped that stem cell procedures will replace many procedures that currently require operations.  In stead of waiting for a heart, liver or kidney transplant, it is anticipated that an injection of stem cells could solve the problem. 

Companies in some foreign countries have already begun advertising various stem cell therapies. It was reported back in 2004 that Hwang Mi-Soon, a South Korean woman who had been paralyzed for 20 years, was successfully treated with stem cells from multipotent umbilical cord blood. There have been questions raised about the procedure but according to the Stem Cell Therapies Website, "Under TV lights and flashing cameras, Ms Hwang stood up from her wheelchair and shuffled forward and back a few paces with the help of the frame."   Only time will tell.

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:50 PM