Have You Heard the Good News About Adult and Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells? Probably not.
WE HAVE HEARD IT STATED SO OFTEN it has become a media mantra: Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) offer the greatest hope for cures; adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells have far less potential; the Bush administration's embryonic stem cell funding restrictions have caused America to fall behind in the great international race to develop effective ESC treatments.
Baloney, baloney, and pure baloney: The problems with harnessing embryonic stem cells as treatments appear to be growing, not shrinking. For example, ESC boosters used to claim that these cells are "immortal," that is, they can be maintained indefinitely in culture to provide an inexhaustible source of cellular treatments. Well, not quite: Recent studies have demonstrated that over time ESC lines develop chromosomal abnormalities similar to those found in some cancers. This means that the useful shelf life of embryonic stem-cell lines is probably limited.
By contrast, the umbilical cord blood and adult stem-cell breakthroughs keep on coming. Human trials are ongoing for heart disease, spinal cord injury, eye afflictions, and many other diseases. And here's a bit of potentially very big news: A just-published peer-reviewed study (Cytotherapy, Vol. 7. No. 4 (2005), 368-373) reports that scientists have used umbilical cord blood stem cells to restore feeling and mobility to a spinal cord injury patient. The patient had been paraplegic (complete paraplegia of the 10th thoracic vertebra) for 19 years. The researchers report that after receiving an infusion of umbilical cord blood stem cells,
[t]he patient could move her hips and feel her hip skin on day 15 after transplantation. On day 25 after transplantation her feet responded to stimulation. On post operative day (POD) 7, motor activity was noticed and improved gradually in her lumbar paravertebral and hip muscles. She could maintain an upright position by herself on POD 13. From POD 15 she began to elevate both lower legs about 1 cm, and hip flexor muscle activity gradually improved until POD 41.
In other words, she regained feeling and some mobility after nearly 20 years of being paralyzed. (Similar results for patients with spinal-cord injuries have been reported in human trials in Portugal using the patients' own olfactory (nasal) stem cells--these studies have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, though the very promising results in the first American patients have been testified to in a Senate subcommittee hearing and featured on the PBS television series Innovation.)
Read the entire article on the Weekly Standard website (new window will open).