Thursday, June 02, 2005

Adult Stem Cells -- God's Ultimate Healers?

Stem cell research abounds with possibilities of cures for the injured and ill. Those with spinal cord injuries or Parkinson's are particularly -- and not surprisingly -- enthusiastic. You'd think funding and supporting research into embryonic stem cells was a slam dunk. But sacrificing life is what makes this possible. Creating life in order to kill it in order to harvest stem cells to save another person's quality of life is what this is all about. Since it's to save people whose quality of life has degenerated to the point of being barely funtional, many feel creating and killing life is justified. And then along comes a Russian cosmetologist who uses these stem cells to make women look younger.

As this debate rages, Canadian researchers are looking for ways to sidestep this whole ethical quagmire by developing stem cells from adults. This different research focus may be because of Canada's Assisted Human Reproduction Act of 2004, which allows only spare IVF embryos to be harvested for stem cells and only as long as such research clearly benefits human health. (I don't think looking younger falls into that category. And neither, thank goodness, does cloning human cells, as in South Korea and Great Britian.) Some may think this Act has stultified stem cell research in Canada; instead it's driving it into thrilling territory. And we're in the forefront of discovering that territory.

So far Canadian researchers are trying to coax adult rat brain stem cells into replacing cells killed by stroke; cardiac stem-like cells to replace cells killed by heart attack; pancreas cells into changing into insulin-producing islet cells for diabetics. They're succeeding very well.

Reading about this adult stem cell research posits, in my mind, an interesting theory: God created us in such a way that the key to curing our various ailments and injuries resides in our own organs. Although only the liver can regenerate, every organ possibly contains cells that can be prodded into replacing ill or dead cells, thus not only leading to improved function, but also eliminating the need for organ transplants, with their attendant long waiting lists, risky surgery, medications for life, and immunological issues. Imagine that: perhaps healing in the future comes with a simple injection of growth factors that wake up these adult stem cells to repair the damaged areas or maybe even regrow organs. So why are we arguing over embryos and fetuses? Why are we not directing our research dollars en masse to unlocking our inner healing abilities? I think the latter is far more exciting.

No comments: