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