A Prize-Winning Breakthrough with Adult Stem Cells
It appears the push for embryonic stem cell treatment is fading and the acceptance, even preference, of adult stem cell treatments are emerging. This is great news for those of us who believe in the sanctity of life.
For many years, a large segment of the scientific community felt that stem cell treatments were primarily successful with the use of living, human embryonic stem cells, not adult stem cells.
But along with embryonic stem cell research and treatment, there was a huge, ethical push back. The problem is that harvesting embryonic stem cells destroys the embryo, which is tantamount to murder.
Now it appears adult stem cell treatment is not only as good as embryonic, but even better, thanks to the research of the two new recipients of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Seventy-nine-year-old John Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, Britain, and 50-year-old Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan figured out how to take adult cells and and reprogram them into embryonic cells without the need to harvest embryos.
This provides new hope for people with Parkinson's Disease, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and more.
All the cells in our body begin as healthy stem cells. Then their specific characteristics develop. Stem cell treatment involves taking a stem cell and growing it, then placing it inside a sick part of the body, such as the brain or the spinal cord.
Then what happens is the healthy stem cells take over the sick part of the body, regenerating, thus making the patient well.
The problem, until now, was that scientists believed that new stem cells could only be harvested from embryos. That was a big problem indeed for pro-life advocates who believe such a practice is murder. Human embryos were being harvested for the express purpose of destruction for stem cell research and treatment.
But Gurdon and Yamanaka showed that embryonic stem cells are rather obsolete. They discovered that adult cells could be turned back into stem cells! They stripped-down the adult cell and reversed the cell development, turning the adult cells back into cells that behave like embryos.
As an added bonus, it does not appear that adult stem cells are rejected by the immune system the way embryonic stem cells sometimes are.
Gurdon and Yamanaka will share $1.2 million in prize money.
Yamanaka did issue a word of warning in the wake of his award. He advises patients to use extreme caution about stem cell therapies offered at large. The Internet can be a dangerous place because of all the unproven stem cell treatments advertised, treatments that promise cures for just about anything you can think of.
These offers typically originate from countries outside of the United States, particularly Mexico, China, Russia, India, and Turkey. The treatments often have no testing whatsoever to back them up and no safety precautions in place. People who are desperate for a cure undertake the treatments and end up much worse than before, sometimes dead.
Yamanaka advises patients to do their homework: before considering any type of stem cell therapy, make sure its safety has been tested sufficiently with animal trials.
He stated, "I hope patients and lay people can understand there are two kinds of stem cell therapies. One is what we are trying to establish. It is solely based on scientific data. We have been conducting preclinical work, experiments with animals, like rats and monkeys."
He continued, "Only when we confirm the safety and effectiveness of stem cell therapies with animals will we initiate clinical trials using a small number of patients."