Serious ethical questions have hampered stem cell research despite the potential for many medical breakthroughs.
It may be medically exciting, but the destruction of human embryos to extract stem cells which can differentiate into any type of cell in the body has been a moral issue of maximum extent. Embryonic cells can differentiate and potentially repair those cells which have been damaged, such as cells in the spinal cord or brain.
New information about diseases such as cancer or defects at birth could be revealed if a scientists have a better understanding of stem cells.
But the regeneration of tissues and organs using stem cells, dubbed the “holy grail” of the science, has medical researchers most excited. Especially in regards to therapeutic potential. Multiple sclerosis, strokes, burns, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s could all potentially be treated more effectively and possibly cured.
However, the catch is the ethical dilemma. Despite the excitement of patients and medical researchers, many still stop to ask: Is it morally proper to initiate reproduction, only to harvest the days-old embryo for its stem cells?
The concept is looked on disapprovingly by those who oppose abortion. But a less controversial path may soon bring new hope.
The full malleability of embryonic stem cells may be matched by adult bone marrow stem cells that have been harvested according to recent research.
To investigate the potential to treat diseased immune systems using human bone marrow cells, two doctors (Freedman and Atkins) in Ottawa have been conducting trials. The MS society of Canada has been the primary benefactor for the project.
The potential to transform the bone marrow cells into any other cell in the body is being investigated by other researchers around the world and the Ottawa team’s work relates to this subject as well.
The prospects for new medical therapies to be developed would be elevated if the team is successful.
“Ultimately, we would like to be able to reverse the (damage to) patients who are very disabled today,” said Dr. Mark Freedman, who is partnering with Dr. Harry Atkins on the study at the Ottawa Health Research Institute.
The lining of the spinal cord and brain is damaged in MS patients. Using stem cells to repair the damaged cells is another goal of scientists who conduct similar research as Freedman and Atkins. The MS Society is also funding a joint study involving the Mayo Institute, the University of Calgary, and McGill University involving this work.
The prospect of new life is the potential that breakthroughs involving stem cells hold. This applies to patients with MS as well as other conditions.
And making the research even more worthwhile is the avoidance of the sticky ethical issues that involve embryonic stem cells. These breakthroughs will be the courtesy of non-controversial adult stem cells.