Adult Stem Cells Coming of Age
Who needs human embryos? Treatments with ethically-pure adult stem cells are moving from the lab to the doctor’s office.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany are still experimenting with embryonic stem cells, Science Daily reports, but a look inside the article reveals that the work is only conceptual—no actual therapies are being tested to help patients. It’s OK if we’re talking mouse embryonic stem cells, like this study at UCSD that’s testing the effects of BPA on mammals (Science Daily). But there’s no need to arouse ethical protests by tinkering with human embryos when adult cells, processed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), can fulfill all the dreams of regenerative medicine. Here are some new findings about iPS cells, with reports of new treatments that are helping people right now.
Sports injuries: “It’s not voodoo medicine anymore,” Medical Xpress says; “it is reality and it soon may not require a trip overseas to get it done.” What is it? It’s the use of your own mesenchymal stem cells to heal your injuries. The physician for the Cleveland Browns, Dr. James Voos, is glad he won’t have to send players overseas now. “Stem cell therapy is an intriguing avenue of treatment that is rapidly evolving,” Voos said. “We are continuing to study and better understand the capabilities a person’s own cells have to treat pain and potentially improve healing.”
Macular degeneration: Treatment for a blinding eye disease is coming along, thanks to iPS cells. Science Daily says that embryonic stem cells tended to be rejected, but iPS cells are working. “Our finding of the lack of immune rejection of human iPSC-derived retinal pigment epithelium cells supports the feasibility of using these cells for treating macular degeneration,” a spokesman says from CIRM, the California institute that began as a center for embryonic stem cell research. “However, the inflammatory environment associated with macular degeneration could be an additional hurdle to be overcome for the stem cell therapy to be successful.” Work is continuing on this sight-saving technique in Japan as well, but there was a hiccup that called a halt to the trial there. New Scientist reports that a mutation in the stem cell pool raised a risk of cancer in participants. Shinya Yamanaka, the father of iPS cells, says the risk of cancer is low and easily fixable. “There is a lot resting on the outcome of the trial,” the article says. “It could finally provide evidence of the clinical potential of iPS cells, which were first created in 2006.”
Retinitis pigmentosa: Another therapy emerging from CIRM to the clinic is the use of retinal progenitor cells to treat retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that progressively leads to blindness from the peripheral vision inward. Medical Xpress talks about how Phase 1 clinical trials involving injections of these eye-specific stem cells have begun at UCI near Los Angeles.
Knee cartilage: Got knee problems? It might be from damaged cartilage. This headline on Medical Xpress is good news for owners of aching knees and other joints: “Surgeons implant knee cartilage grown from patient’s own cells.” A research team at Ohio State says, “The hope is that embedding patients with their own cells will lead to a more durable replacement of the lost cartilage and improve patient outcomes.”
Muscular dystrophy: Researchers at Kyoto University are finding that iPS cells are discovering a drug target for Duchenne’s disease, a form of muscular dystrophy. Medical Xpress says, “The strategy depends on first reprogramming the patient cells to induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and then introducing a gene that differentiates the iPS cells to muscle cells.”
Lung disease: A rare lung disease is looking like a candidate for stem cell therapy. Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a deadly and incurable disease that mostly affects young women in the prime of life. Science Daily says that doctors can harvest a patient’s own white blood cells and find stem-like endothelial progenitor cells. Then, they can genetically engineer them to fix the bad gene, and re-inject them to treat the disease. The treatment appears to be well-tolerated so far. “We desperately need new therapies for this disease, and regenerative medicine approaches have shown great promise in laboratory models and in clinical trials for other conditions,” says Dr. Duncan Stewart of the University of Ottawa.
Heart attack: The above article also states, “Dr. Stewart is also leading the first clinical trial in the world of a genetically-enhanced stem cell therapy for heart attack.”
Liver: Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have identified the source of stem cells in the liver, Science Daily reports, that allow the organ to regenerate. “The lab is now investigating how the newly identified stem cells might contribute to regeneration of liver tissue after injury.”
Cancer: Can stem cells cause and cure cancer? That’s what researchers at Texas A&M University are trying to find out, according to another piece on Medical Xpress. According to one theory of interest at the National Institutes of Health, cancer is a stem cell disease, involving miscommunications between stem cells and proteins. And if stem cells are behind the condition, reprogramming stem cells might be “the future of cancer therapy.”
Brain in a dish?: Are you worried about reports that a researcher used iPS cells to grow a human brain in a dish? (e.g., see Science Daily.) That would certainly be an unethical use of the technology. New Scientist says, however, that other scientists are rejecting the claim. There is no evidence that the cells Rene Anand (Ohio State) grew from skin cells transformed into iPS cells are connected like neurons in a real brain. “They are a bunch of cells in a dish, like a soup,” an observer said. Still, it goes to show that citizens need to keep a watchful eye on mad scientists.
These findings are encouraging, but there are still segments of Big Science that want those embryos. The shocking videos of wicked, barbarous practices going on at Planned Parenthood with viable human babies aborted and sold for parts is awakening a sleeping nation to uncomfortable truths: Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be selling the tissue if there were not a market for it. Stem Express, caught with its hands red in blood, has cut ties with Planned Parenthood for now, but the outrage needs to grow. Share those videos! (See Center for Medical Progress — 7 videos out so far, each more disturbing than the last – or watch this two-minute summary at least.) The danger now is that people will get numb from so much evil and turn their heads, like 1930s Germans, rather than demand action. Did you notice that all the Republicans in the Senate voted to defund Planned Parenthood from your tax dollars (to the tune of over $500 million per year), but only 2 Democrats voted with them?
These stories show that evil is never the only option. There are always alternatives to unethical practices. It’s not right to do wrong to get a chance to do right. If you recall from the early days of the George W. Bush presidency, Big Science was screaming for human embryonic stem cells, using tearful TV ads showing desperate people dying without them. California voters, despite a weak economy, approved a $3 billion proposition to fund the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) under false pretenses that doctors and patients needed embryos, and that miracle cures were right around the corner. Under great pressure, the normally strongly pro-life President Bush acceded to Big Science’s wearying campaign, but he only allowed for existing cell lineages to be used. His successor, President Obama, removed all restrictions. Right before that, though, Yamanaka’s Nobel-Prize winning discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells made headlines in 2006. The gold rush began turning from embryos to iPS. This added impetus to the growing (but less publicized) successes coming from adult stem cells.
It appears that embryonic stem cell researchers are being left in the dust because adult stem cells and iPS cells are yielding the goods. We need to stop the use of human embryonic stem cells, and use the lesson of iPS to dry up the market for fetal tissue from abortions as well. There’s no justification for killing a human being; it is immoral (see Dennis Prager’s 5-minute video on abortion). If no one’s buying, Planned Parenthood can’t sell. That’s just one part of a multi-prong strategy that needs to put those racist, Sanger-inspired eugenicist murderers out of business.