Embryonic stem cells have the potential to treat a range of diseases and conditions for which current treatment options are lacking. Capable of differentiating practically into all of the types of tissues in the human body, the cells could be used in therapies to treat conditions such as paralysis, brain damage, and Parkinson’s disease. Among the many challenges to be overcome before human embryonic stem cells live up to their promise is difficulty in proving whether transplanted stem cells can integrate successfully in vivo.
Researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison have announced progress on that front. Having created Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*
Medical organizations are donating heavily to doctors running for the U.S. House. Dentists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, surgeons, neurologists and ENTs have contributed heavily. The goal is to get doctors onto committees where they can have the most impact. So far, the candidates have trended heavily Republican and have, in at least one campaign, vowed to overturn healthcare reform. The stakes are high if opposing legislators succeed, because they could underfund or block portions of reform to the point that it works poorly or not at all. (Politico, New England Journal of Medicine)
Spurred by antibiotic resistance seen in almost every drug class, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, FACP, is turning the agency’s attention toward animal feed. With little to no development of new antibiotics in the pipeline, the agency is discussing regulations for animal feed and guidelines for human use. (Wall Street Journal)
Scientists should be able to use stem cells for biomedical research, according to a recent Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll. Almost three quarters of adults surveyed are in favor of using embryonic stem cells left over from in-vitro fertilization. These poll results remain consistent with a similar survey released in 2005. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*
Camouflaged in the politics, controversy, and hype surrounding stem cells have been two stunning and unexpected dividends: the ability to study diseases in a petrie dish and a new way to think about cancer. This is separate from the most well-publicized stem cell story: the potential of embryonic stem cells to morph into any cell in the body and replace injured or defective cells — for example in diabetes, Parkinson’s, and spinal cord injury.
Human embryonic stem cells (HES cells) are collected from unused embryos created by in-vitro fertilization. About two years ago, scientists figured out a way to turn ordinary skin cells into stem cells. This was a huge deal. These cells — called “induced pluripotents stem cells” (IPS cells) — are not identical to HES cells and may not be quite as nimble in morphing into other cells. But they are electrifying the field because diseases can now be studied outside the body – in a petrie dish. For example, researchers have taken skin from patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), turned them into stem cells, then turned the stem cells into the kind of nerve cells (motor neurons) damaged in the disease. Read more »
By Stacy Beller Stryer, M.D.
I vividly remember my firsts in medical school – my first patient with cystic fibrosis who was so air hungry that he couldn’t even speak, my first teen who was constantly admitted to the hospital with an infection due to a genetic disorder that would eventually kill him, and my first 3 year-old patient with sickle cell anemia who almost died because her spleen decided to sequester many of her red cells. They were my firsts, but they certainly won’t be my lasts.
On March 9th, however, President Obama took a major step toward helping these children and so many others just like them. It gives me hope that someday there will be a few lasts. On Monday, he signed an executive order which relaxed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and allowed federal funding for such projects. This is big. It reverses an almost 8 year policy that severely restricted such funding and the ability to use embryonic stem cells.
Embryonic stem cell research will open up the doors for potential cures and treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and for traumatic injuries, such as those that involve the brain and spinal cord. But the potential benefit of stem cells isn’t just for adults. Discoveries from embryonic stem cell research could save many lives and significantly reduce the suffering of children with a whole variety of diseases. Many medical centers, such as the University of Cincinnati, are or will soon be greatly expanding their stem cell research programs because of this policy change.
Why are embryonic stem cells so important for research? These cells are truly amazing because they have the ability to turn into any other cell in the body, such as blood cells, nerve cells, islet cells (which make insulin in the pancreas), or even entire organs. Plus, these cells can continue to duplicate, or make more of themselves, which is wonderful for both research and eventual treatment. Think about a newborn, that starts out as a single cell which then continues to replicate and differentiate until it becomes a fetus. It is truly a miracle and is the reason embryonic stem cells are so important.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati want, through new research, to successfully treat fatal and other serious genetic disorders. Other medical centers will use embryonic stem cells to search for treatments for illnesses such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and traumatic injury. The list goes on and on. Results will not occur overnight. It will be a long, expensive time intensive process. Through this process, researchers hope to learn how cells differentiate into specific types of cells and how genes turn certain cells on and off. The ultimate goal is to successfully repair or even replace ineffective, damaged and abnormal cells.
Some people are against the use of embryonic stem cells in research and treatment because they believe that, even though it can save lives, it also ends a life. This is an issue everybody has to think about on a personal and individual level. Currently, federal guidelines require embryo stem cells to come from extra embryos that were made when a couple underwent in vitro fertilization but were not used and, if not used for research, would simply be thrown away.