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Human stem cells

Experimental treatments using stem cells

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There are major concerns about the use of embryonic stem cells in treating and curing human diseases and disorders. Some people object to their use for moral reasons. Reporting on embryonic and adult stem cells has been highly biased.

We strongly recommend that you read our summary on the use of stem cells first, before reading further.

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The two types of stem cells:

The two main types of stem cells are adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Each has their advantages and disadvantages:

bullet Adult stem cell research has an almost four decade head start over research with embryonic stem cells. So experimental treatments for humans are already being developed using adult stem cells whereas none are yet available using embryonic stem cells.
bullet Embryonic stem cells have a major advantage because they can develop into the full range of 220 cell types in the human body. In fact, this is precisely what happens during each pregnancy. Adult stem cells can only be coaxed into developing into a limited range of cell types.
bullet Adult stem cells have a major advantage because there are few ethical concerns over their collection and use. On the other hand, harvesting embryonic stem cells kills the pre-embryo. Since many pro-life supporters believe that a pre-embryo is a full human person, they believe that this is the equivalent of murdering a human being.

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Successes with adult stem cell research:

Massachusetts Family Institute, a pro-life group that is opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells reported on some of the impressive successes with adult stem cells:

"Adult stem cells are regenerative cells of the human body that can be coaxed to become a whole host of tissues, including heart tissue and neural matter. With these adult stem cells, physicians have successfully treated autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. They have also restored proper cardiac function to heart attack victims, and improved movement in spinal cord injury patients. 1

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Successes with embryonic stem cell research:

Continuing with the statement by the Massachusetts Family Institute, they concluded:

"Embryonic stem cells have yet to yield one single success in the treatment of any [human] ailment." 1

However, in spite of embryonic stem cell research having started four decades late, some promising developments have already been made that are expected to result in cures of human diseases.

bullet 2005-SEP-19: Repairing damaged spinal cords in mice: Researchers at the University of California, Irvine first injured the spinal cords of test mice. Seven days later, they injected stem cells into some of the mice.

Medical News Today reported:

"For the study, the UCI team used a novel technique they created to entice human embryonic stem cells to differentiate into early-stage oligodendrocyte cells. Oligodendrocytes are the building blocks of myelin, the biological insulation for nerve fibers that is critical for maintenance of electrical conduction in the central nervous system. When myelin is stripped away through disease or injury, sensory and motor deficiencies result and, in some cases, paralysis can occur. ... Within two months, these rats began to show significant improvements in walking ability in comparison to injured rats who received no treatment." 2

However, rats that had been injured 10 months before treatment were not helped. It seems that scar tissue prevented growth of myelin.

bullet 2007-JUN: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) reversed in mice: AMD accounts for a major loss of quality of life in many elderly people. About 25% of all people over the age of 60 in Britain have some vision loss due to this disease process. In Europe, an estimated 14 million people suffer blindness from this cause. This would translate to about 28 million disabled or partly disabled Americans. AMD affects the central part of the retina and causes visual cells to stop functioning. This causes loss of sight, However, peripheral vision is much less affected, so many people with AMD do retain some sight.

UK Researchers at University College London (UCL), Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, and the University of Sheffield  have transplanted retinal cells into mice that were blind as a result of a genetic defect that produces a

The London Project to Cure AMD was launched on 2007-JUN-05 with a ₤4 million grant from an anonymous donor in the U.S. Prof Pete Coffey, from UCL, said:

"Our goal within the five-year period is to have patients we can treat. If it hasn't become routine in ten years, it would mean we've failed. " 3

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References used:

  1. "Stem Cell Research," Massachusetts Family Institute, E-Alert, 2004-OCT-14.
  2. "Stem cell treatment improves mobility after spinal cord injury," Medical News Today,  2005-MAY-11, at:
  3. "Blind stem cell 'cure' in 5 years,", 2007-JUN-05, at:

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Copyright © 2004 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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