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Embrionic stem cells seen through a

New Stroke Research Trial Stirs More Controversy Over Stem Cells

January 19, 2009 01:29 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Researchers hope a new trial can help stroke sufferers, one of many recent experiments that involve the use of controversial stem cells to improve health.

Stems Cells Used in Stroke and Blindness Trials

Glasgow researchers are planning a “major trial” to test the effects of stem cells on stroke patients, according to the BBC. The United Kingdom approved the trial after the US Food and Drug Administration rejected the proposal from ReNeuron, the company that developed the therapy, two years ago.

According to Medical News Today, “About 30% of current patients who had a stroke recover completely. However, the rest either die or become disabled for life. The only therapy that can help those permanently disabled is physiotherapy (physical therapy).”

The scientists will inject cells made from a human fetus into the brains of their patients, hoping that the “cells will regenerate areas damaged by stroke, and increase patients' movements and mental abilities,” the BBC writes. The trial is scheduled to begin next year and will, at first, follow four groups of three patients over two years.

Keith Muir from Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, who is monitoring the trial, said, "If it works, as it has done in animal model systems, it may allow new nerve cells to grow or regeneration of existing cells and actual recovery of function in patients who would not otherwise be able to regain function."

Muir thinks that the use of stem cells could potentially help stroke sufferers who have not benefited much from physiotherapy.

Anti-abortion groups have opposed the trial, and the Society for the Unborn Child even called the proposal “sick.” A spokesperson for the organization claimed that, “It involves cannibalising an unborn child,” according to the BBC.

Also on Monday, medical experts announced that a two-year trial will begin this month on the effect of stem cells on corneal blindness, according to Agence France-Presse. The experiment, which will take place at Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh and the Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow, is not as controversial as the stroke trial because it involves stem cells from dead adult donors instead of embryonic stem cells.

Background: Recent advances in stem cell science

In November 2008, Bloomberg reported that five months after doctors in Spain gave Claudia Castillo, 30, a new trachea with the use of stem cells, her lungs were working normally for a person her age.

Scientists called the results of the surgery a monumental achievement for the medical community, and it could lead the way for other stem cell-assisted transplants within 20 years, such as heart transplants, according to The Age.

Also in November, the Daily Telegraph reported that a new treatment used a patient's stem cells to fix tears in the knee's meniscal cartilage.

The procedure uses stem cells taken from bone marrow, and is described as a "living bandage."

Meniscal cartilage tears are a common injury among athletes, and are not easy to repair. Many people choose to risk future osteoarthritis problems by having the cartilage removed altogether.

Other species are benefitting from stem cells, too. Injuries that used to end horses’ careers are being repaired with their own stem cells, reported Wired magazine. National Institutes of Health researchers are growing human spinal disks, cartilage and muscle in the labs, though the tissues aren’t ready to be used yet.

“Stem cells are very promising, but what they do for horses may not work so well for humans because humans are the hardest animal to rebuild,” said Rocky Tuan, a researcher at NIH, in an interview with Wired.

In 2007, another research team said it was able to reprogram human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells, or cells that can turn into any type of human tissue.

In the past decade, science has learned quite a bit about what adult stem cells can and can’t do. Adult stem cells don’t carry any federal limits or the baggage embryonic stem cells do.

But not all adult stem cell research has been so promising. Scientists haven’t been able to replicate some of the most exciting adult stem cell studies, according to Scientific American. Another NIH researcher, Eva Mezey, told Scientific American last year that embryonic stem cells are still more versatile than adult stem cells.

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Shackled’ research vs. the end of embryonic stem cells

Thomas Robey, a medical student at the University of Washington, recently reflected on the seven years since President George W. Bush enacted a ban on using federal money to develop and research new embryonic stem cell lines.

“The end result of the policy is that, anything goes if you have your own money. This slowed down all of the richest universities, but did not stop them, because research was still permitted on the ‘presidentially approved’ lines,” Robey wrote.

Though the development of another series of stem cells that look like embryonic stem cells does not make human embryo stem cell research unnecessary, they do have their benefits.

“These cells do present a true middle ground between the scientific proponents and religious opponents to [human embryonic stem cell] research,” he wrote on the blog Clashing Culture.

But Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., believes advances in other types of stem cells may be the answer to the embryonic stem cell ethics debate.

“I think that, in time, this probably will be the final chapter of this particular debate about embryonic stem cells, but I don’t think we’re at the end of it quite yet,” Levin said in a July interview with The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Reference: Stem cells explained

Related Topic: Cord blood's potential


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