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August 02, 2010

Adult Stem Cells, Not Embryonic, Yielding Real Therapies

I would not have guessed this -- not because I knew anything about the science either way, but because I think the universe usually avoids making questions easy for you, you know? It seemed unlikely to me that a big moral dilemma would turn out to be no dilemma at all, because adult stem cells were where the action was at.

But that's the case.

For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it's adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments.

Morley Safer reported for "60 Minutes" this summer on the rapidly increasing trend of "regenerative medicine," where cells in the human body are manipulated into regrowing damaged tissues.

Researchers have created beating hearts, ears and bladders using stem cells. Biotech companies and the Pentagon have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in research that could profoundly change millions of lives.

Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals.

Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

"That's really one of the great success stories of stem cell biology that gives us all hope," says Dr. David Scadden of Harvard, who notes stem cells are also used to grow skin grafts.

"If we can recreate that success in other tissues, what can we possibly imagine for other people?"

That sort of promise has long been held out for embryonic stem cells...

But in the near term, embryonic stem cells are more likely to pay off as lab tools, for learning about the roots of disease and screening potential drugs.


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posted by Ace at 03:27 PM

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