Medical barriers to stem cell use being removed, one by one
By ColmSmyth on Dec 02, 2004
Several key achievements reported recently show significant progress towards the ability to use stem cells to treat illnesses, such as the recent case in South Korea where researchers enabled Hwang Mi-Soon to walk again after 20 years of paralysis.
- It is possible to use blood stem cells from the umbilical cord (as in Hwang Mi-Soon's case) rather than from an embryo, which eliminates much of the controversy surrounding stem cell use
- Also, 'embryonic' stem cells can be created from an unfertilised cell by using an enzyme found in sperm
- It seems possible to avoid the costly and controversial need to create a 'therapeutic clone' which today is required to prevent rejection of stem cells by the patient's immune system
Stem cells are "generic", capable of becoming cells with several specific functions such as nervous system progenitor cells which are in turn able to create cells which make myelin which enables nerves to transmit sense information or commands to move muscle.
It is an extraordinary privilege to live in an age where so many medical advances improve the quality of our lives; I can only hope that these advances do not fall under patent protection which limits the supply and increases cost, and that the public courage, determination and generosity of sufferers like Christopher Reeve inspires open solutions that benefit all of us.