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The stem cell race

The stem cell race

Government progress needs to be made in order to sustain public momentum and support of stem cell research.

Commercialization is “excruciatingly slow� said Micheal Haider, CEO of BioE Inc., a St. Paul company that extracts stem cells from blood in human umbilical cords. “I’m not aware of a successful stem-cell company. If you thought gene therapy was difficult, then (stem cells) are astronomically difficult.�-Star Tribune

The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic are researching and developing stem cells that would repair damaged heart tissue, thus preventing heart failure. In addition the Univerisity is using their stem-cell technology to grow replacement organs such as livers, kidneys and hearts.

Large medical device makers like Medtronic are also continuously developing ways to insert stem cells into the body.

They hype of stem cell capabilities falls nothing short of amazing. Stem cells are the basis of regenerative medicine, which would assist the body in healing itself. These ‘blank slated’ cells are capable of continuously replenishing themselves, growing into specialized cells that could inform the heart to beat, a pancreas to produce insulin, or grow into dopamine-producing neurons (which could be used to treat Parkinson’s). These capabilities are extremely exciting but, researchers are continuously confronting controversy, slowing the entire process.

Struggle to disassociate adult and embryonic stem cells yields to be very frustrating for advocates.

Stem cells harvested from embryos are derived from an early stage of an embryo, called a blastocys, (approximately 4 to 5 days old). Once the cells are removed from the blastocys, the embryo will not continue into human life, thus creating controversy. After almost ten years of research, there have been no approved human trials using embryonic stem cells.

Adult stem cells however, are found in human tissue and umbilical cord blood. There is less controversy with adult stem cell research because the production does not require the destruction of an embryo.

President Bush issued guidelines that limited federal funding to embryonic stem cell lines already in existence in 2001.

“The biggest disappointment from the summit is that stem cells automatically equals embryonic stem cells,� Haider said. “This makes it more difficult for the rest of the industry. Stem cell has become a word like Kleenex, a brand name for everything. We spend great deals of time educating people, getting their heads to turn back.�

Advocates also put blame on overly cautions regulators for delaying the technology.

“People on Capitol Hill are obsessed with…safety,� said Michael Werner, president of the Werner Group, a Washington, D.C.–based consulting and lobbying firm.

Cell research and therapy has been hurt by the lack of confidence within the investor community.

There is no denying huge medical gains could be made. But, the future of stem cells lies in investors, researchers and largely government decisions.

Sources:

Star Tribune Monday, September 29, 2008 "Stem cells: Time to make good on promises" by Thomas Lee