Stem Cell Research: Perspective from a Paraplegic

A ll the excitement being generated today about Stem Cells is being generated by several groups of people.  Some of these people are from the scientific and medical field while others are people with degenerative diseases or debilitating injuries such as mine.  I was paralyzed from the waist down in a fall a couple of years ago.  On one hand, there is a push to get government funding for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, and on the other, a push for increased funding and recognition for adult stem cell (ASC) research.  First, letís define the two.

Before we do that, itís important to define what a stem cell is.  Stem cells are cells that are capable of self-renewal and differentiating into many cells types to form various tissues.  A pre-embryo(less than 14 days old) possesses stem cells that are able to differentiate into any one of the 200 cell types in the human body.  The excitement surrounding stem cells is from the hope that they may cure disease or improve function in the life of the person getting stem cell therapy.

Adult stem cells can be found in many places such as the blood, umbilical cord, fat, kidneys, bone marrow, sinuses, and muscle tissue.  ASC research isnít controversial because no human being dies when these stem cells are harvested.  Adult stem cells are often referred to as multipotent because they can differentiate into several cell types, but a recent report sites research showing that these cells are totipotent like ESCís.  Through ASC research there have been numerous advances made.  Diabetes patients have been off insulin for over a year, Parkinsonís patients have shown increased coordination, twenty-three patients regained their eyesight and a person with multiple sclerosis showed significant improvement.  Most exciting to me is the healing occurring in several people paralyzed with spinal cord injuries treated with ASCís.  Many are already walking again or regaining function.  All in all, there are over seventy treatments being used today that utilize a persons own stem cells.

Embryonic Stem Cell research is getting the most attention in the press because it is driven by claims of tremendous hope to those who are suffering.  Often left out of the discussion is the fact that you have to destroy a human life in order to harvest ESCís.  Billions of dollars are being spent overseas in places such as China, England and Singapore in an effort to find treatments using ESCís and there are billions promised by a couple of states in the U.S. which has not yet banned the practice.  With all of the talk and money being invested in ESC research around the world, there is currently not one clinical therapy being used for the benefit of anyone.  Why all the hype then, especially when ASCís are already doing what ESCís are only hoped to do?  1. ESCís are totipotent which means that they are completely undifferentiated.  This means that they are not yet, any one of the 200 cell types in the human body.  Researchers see these as superior to ASCís because of the number of cell types they may possibly become.  Now that ASCís are also showing this ability however, this is a mute point.  The biggest problem facing researchers is that there is no way to steer ESCís to become the specific cell type needed.  There is already documented, ESC therapy that has killed a man in China.  The transplanted ESCís from a pre-embryo did not treat the manís brain damage but turned into skin, bone and hair killing him.  2. Additionally, transplanting foreign cells into another person creates problems with rejection which is familiar with all transplant patients.  3.  Research using ESCís is being driven by many with a goal to clone humans.  The ultimate goal is to grow fetuses for the purpose of fetal harvesting of parts.  Attempts have already been made to replace the DNA of an existing fertilized egg with a particular persons own DNA, in effect recreating oneself.  This Orwellian approach to research could, if taken to its conclusion, allow a woman to bear herself!  There are those who, I believe, want to create clones of themselves in order harvest parts to replace damaged organs and prolong their own life.  It is an arrogant thought that we do not accept our own mortality. 

We do have an obligation to help people who are hurting but never at the expense of another.  Each embryo that is destroyed is a human life that is shortened by those who donít hold to a standard that values life.  The Psalmist writes of each individual as a special creation in Godís eyes (Ps. 139:13-16).


Dan Haines

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©Tom Carpenter
This article was not published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen