IVF Success : The Real Miracle Cell: A look at adult stem cells

MY BACK WAS SORE, MY NECK was aching, and I was glad to be out of my wheelchair. My bed felt good, even if I couldn’t “feel” most of my body. After 37 years of quadriplegia, the vertebrae in my neck are beginning to deteriorate resulting in ever-increasing levels of pain. So on this particular night, I was grateful for a productive day at work and finally… rest. I flicked on the television to watch a PBS special called “Miracle Cell.”1 Earlier that day, fellow advocates in their emails were buzzing about it. Apparently, the show would highlight recent advancements in medical therapies using stem cells—those amazing “blank slate” cells that seem to hold the key to future cures. As I lay in bed waiting for the program to begin, I thought about the many parents of disabled children I knew from Joni and Friends’ family retreats. I remembered one mother who, while stroking her little boy in his wheelchair, sighed; “We are praying that they will find a cure one day for Joey’s disease. Heaven knows all we’ve been through with so many surgeries.” My heart ached for her then. I ached for her now. I was hoping her family was watching the PBS special, too. Soon it was on and I found myself glued to the stories and images.

One segment left me breathless. It showed 17-year-old Laura Dominguez, a spinal cord injured paraplegic from Texas, shyly describing her struggles to her doctor. In the next scene, Dr. Carlos Lima, a surgeon in Lisbon, Portugal, had Laura in his operating room, scraping stem cells from her nasal tissue and then transplanting them into her spinal cord. Later, she was back in the U.S., taking her first shaky steps out of her wheelchair. With the aid of parallel bars, Laura was walking. Like I said, it left me breathless— remember my injury is only a handful of vertebrae higher on the spinal column than Laura’s. For years, my husband and I have supported spinal cord injury research and for years we have heard the same story: Oh, it’s about a decade away. Friend, the decade is virtually here and this is good news not only for Miss Dominguez, but also for many parents of children with disabilities. Real remedies are happening right now using adult stem cells, those “miracle cells” in the body that researchers say have the capability to virtually adapt and expand into almost any other tissue.

These cells are harvested from a patient’s own nasal tissue, bone marrow, or dental pulp (stem cells are also found in umbilical cord blood). Researchers extract the cells, then coax them to ‘morph’ into, let’s say, healthy tissue in the damaged area of a heart. Adult stem cell therapies are in current trial or use for the treatment of certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone deformities, stroke and eye malfunctions. Successful human trials have been completed for treating heart damage, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.2 And now, spinal cord injury—I mused as the TV special highlighted other paraplegics who have regained bladder control and muscle restoration through operations like Laura’s.3 The next day I was anxious to get back to my office at Joni and Friends to see if the media picked up on Laura’s story or the work of Dr. Lima. Sadly, I could hardly find a mention anywhere.

Even the newly FDA- approved human trial using adult stem cells on heart disease at the University of Texas was barely mentioned.4 Only days earlier, I had also read an announcement that bone marrow stem cells had successfully regenerated liver tissue…but there was barely a line or two in the news media. I felt frustrated and a little angry. As a person with a disability who helps lead an organization providing services to thousands of families affected by disability, I would hope news of these incredible breakthroughs would be widely reported. I would think TIME magazine would headline these wonderful advancements. Why don’t we hear more about the medical success stories surrounding adult stem cells? The “Other” Stem Cell  There’s a simple answer to that question.

The news media and the biotech industry have an ongoing love affair with the “other” stem cell. I am talking about stem cells harvested from human embryos that are frozen or “left over” from IVF treatments. These embryos are destroyed in order to extract their stem cells. Also, stem cells can be extracted from human clones. There are mounting efforts to legalize the cloning of human beings in order to harvest their stem cells (Australia, France, Germany, Norway and Canada have legally banned all forms of cloning). We’ve only heard one side of the story from celebrities like Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox and Nancy Reagan, who along with the media and bio-tech industries, would have us believe that adult stem cells are not as “good,” not as flexible or adaptable as embryonic stem cells for use and research.

But is this true? No one better appreciates the desire for a cure than I do, having lived in a wheelchair for 37 years. But even the late Christopher Reeve’s chances for a cure were more realistic using adult stem cell therapies. For every study report he might cite, I could point to scores of success stories—a study conducted by the Washington Medical Center in Seattle showed significant advances among 26 rapidly deteriorating multiple sclerosis patients.5 Perhaps even Michael J. Fox’s chances for a cure are more promising using adult stem cells—in 2003, stem cells were harvested from a man’s brain suffering from Parkinson’s, then cultured and expanded to several million cells, 20% of which matured into dopamine-secreting neurons which were injected back into the patient’s brain. After a year, the patient’s overall rating improved by 83%. It was a phenomenal success story, but only the Washington Post gave it a minor mention.

The New York Times—the news outlet that drives cable news—did not report on it at all. Why this neglect by the major media? I am convinced, as are many Americans, that the biotech industry is fueled by the need to find cuttingedge therapies that have a high potential for profit. Innovative experiments also have the best chance of attracting scarce research dollars. So, all the effort gets focused on high profile, avant-garde projects. The result is a flurry of reports about embryos being the “Holy Grail” to future cures. Never mind that stem cells from human embryos are genetically unstable, making them unsuitable for developing treatments for human degenerative disorders. Never mind that The Scientific American (June 2004) underscored the persistent problem of tissue rejection —the body rejects embryonic stem cells as it would an organ transplant. Never mind that embryonic stem cells constantly cause tumors in animal experiments.

And polls consistently show that most Americans are unsettled with the ethical complexities of destroying human embryos for research. When it comes to those scarce research dollars, there is a reason biotech enthusiasts are clamoring for public funding. Since 1995 with the passage of the “Dickey Amendment,” federal law has stated that research involving the destruction of human embryos cannot be funded with taxpayer’s dollars (the federal ban on supplying government funding for embryonic stem cell research is not President Bush’s policy; it’s the law of the land). The biotech industry and politicians, whose districts stand to benefit, want that ban lifted. For them, it’s a matter of risk management.

Private investors aren’t touching embryonic stem cell research—most believe it is speculative science, socially problematic, and ethically complex. And if private investment won’t fund the research, then—my goodness—the government must. As a side note, the federal government has not shortchanged science. Since 2000, total federal spending on research and development has increased by 44%. And what about politicians’ fears that American research will fall behind Europe? The January 19, 2004 cover story of TIME Europe, “Plugging Europe’s Brain Drain” claimed that European researchers are flooding to the United States where “research facilities are teeming with bright, young Europeans, lured by America’s generous funding, better facilities, and meritocratic culture.” Even Dr. Carlos Lima of Portugal is now closely collaborating with researchers in Michigan, Alabama, and Texas. Human Dignity at Stake  But still, I don’t believe we’ve touched on the underlying reason why biotech enthusiasts are going after human embryos for experimentation.

We live in a world where life is being devalued. Life can be copied, altered, aborted, euthanized, cloned, and genetically manipulated. When it comes to the battle over whether or not human embryos should be used for experimentation, we are touching the apple of God’s eye. “Thou shall not murder,” He says in Exodus 20:13. Human dignity and respect for life—all life, no matter how small—is at stake (Gen. 1:27). We wrestle not against the media, the biotech industry and pharmaceutical companies; in this battle, we wrestle against spiritual powers and principalities of darkness. Scripture calls our adversary, the devil, a liar, murderer and an accuser of the brethren (John 8:44; Rev. 12:10). He lies in that he pushes the premise that a tiny “clump of cells in a Petrie dish” isn’t worthy of moral respect and legal safeguards. He is a murderer in that he promotes the destruction of human embryos in stem cell research.

Finally, he is an accuser of the brethren in that he slanders Christians, accusing those who cherish life of caring more about “zygotes” than real people with heartbreaking diseases. The enemy accuses Christians who work not only to safeguard life and promote human dignity, but also who want the truth to be told: adult stem cells are the quickest, safest, most cost- effective and ethical route to real cures. At the Joni and Friends International Disability Center and our Christian Institute on Disability, we understand it is a moral battle. It’s a battle that focuses on what people believe about the human embryo. We believe that all pursuit of medical advancements is a reflection of somebody’s morals; and as a disabled person whose rights are jeopardized in a society that devalues life, I don’t want the media, politicians, celebrities, pharmaceutical companies, and the biotech industry setting the moral agenda.

We need prudent leaders to lay the ethical framework for this “brave new world;” leaders in science, who possess respect for life, strength of character, and a commitment to improve our culture, not diminish it. No Matter How Small…  Personhood begins at conception. Many in the stem cell debate argue that an embryo is not a human person until it is ‘out of the uterus,’ while others argue that it is not a human person until it is ‘in the uterus.’ My friend, Christopher Hook of the Mayo Clinic, states, “These arguments based on an individual’s location are feeble attempts to deny what has been accepted by scientists for many generations: humanhood begins with the union of 23 chromosomes from the ovum and 23 chromosomes from the sperm.”8 Professor Verhey of Hope College in Holland, Michigan sees a parallel between the parable of the Good Samaritan and the debate over personhood. “

The questions, ‘Who is a person?’ and ‘Who is a neighbor?’ both have the same goal—to find out where our moral duties and responsibilities end. Jesus doesn’t give a set of criteria to define who is a neighbor—in the same way, we can’t ‘invent’ a set of criteria to define who is a person is.”9 Whether or not you believe the soul inhabits a tiny human embryo—which I’m convinced it does—is almost beside the point. The fact is; it’s human. It’s not a goat or a rat or a chicken embryo. It is human and each of us began our journey on this planet as one of those embryos. Life, even that small, is owed all the legal and moral protection that any human life enjoys. Some might say, “But these human embryos that are being discarded or frozen after IVF treatments are going to die anyway.

Doesn’t it at least ‘redeem’ their destruction to use some of them for research?” Such an “end justifies the means” argument sounds acceptable, but is it? Death row prisoners are going to die anyway. Why don’t we go ahead and take their life-sustaining organs? (The infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian actually thought this was a great idea!). Despite the fact that there is a heartbreaking shortage of organs, most would find this suggestion abhorrent. It’s wrong to kill people for their body parts, even if “they are going to die anyway.” It’s wrong to destroy a human being—no matter how small—in order to benefit another. In this debate, let’s err on the side of caution—on the side of life—rather than be fools rushing in, clumsily grappling with the very essence of human genesis! Let’s insist that the sanctity of life is preferred over the quality of life—that godly values get anchored into law and policy instead of secular values. Getting Out the Word  We have to get the word out. Laura Dominguez has heard the word and so have hundreds like her who have benefited from adult stem cell therapies. It’s part of what we do at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center —we promote life as well as the facts!

If the national goal is to find cures fast, developing treatments with adult stem cells is our best bet. In fact, many researchers believe that neo-natal stem cells (stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood and the placenta after delivery of a baby) hold even more promise than adult stem cells. Scientists are amazed that stem cells derived from cord blood have been found to be 90% effective in “curing” sickle cell anemia. There is also clinical evidence that cord blood stem cells can be differentiated into cells that can replace brain, bone, liver, heart and spinal tissue.10 Bipartisan legislation has even been introduced in Congress to establish a “national cord blood stem cell bank network” (Senate bill-S1717 and House bill-HR2852). Of the three kinds of stem cells—embryonic, adult and neo-natal—let’s invest time, focus and funding in research that not only respects all life, but offers real remedies to many diseases right now.

Doug Mazza, President of Joni and Friends, has stated, “It’s one of the greatest challenges facing us as Christians. I don’t think we are challenged so much by the issues, as we are by our own character. When it comes to safeguarding human life and promoting ethical research, our battle is to move beyond the fallacy that ‘we could never make a difference.’” Spiritual powers and dark principalities would love to convince us that the world may as well go to hell in a hand basket since the “tide is against us,” so why try? No one is more skilled to fight the battle than you are. Sharing your ideas in the marketplace of life —especially among professionals—does matter. You can in- fluence society, and thereby, dismantle our culture of death. Seventeen-year-old Laura Dominguez is doing it. Take help from internet counseing.

As I write, she and two other spinal cord injured paraplegics are preparing to testify before a U.S. Senate sub-committee on behalf of a bill co-sponsored by Senator Brownback, which ultimately would ban embryonic stem cell research using human clones, as well as provide more funding for adult stem cell research. If Miss Dominguez can speak up from her wheelchair, we can too. Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder and president of Joni and Friends, an organization accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community. A diving accident in 1967 left her a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. In 2004, Joni and Friends broke ground for their new International Disability Center, which will provide a new communications center and training facility for international partnerships. She is a highly sought-after conference speaker around the world and the author of more than 30 books.

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Ryan Thomas Neace
About the Author:

eCounseling.com is the only online counseling help website that allows clients and counselors to connect online – with no software to download or cumbersome technology!  It seeks to be an excellent information resource for consumers, and to connect prospective counseling clients to counseling professionals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Its director is himself trained professional Ryan Thomas Neace.

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    Originally posted 2011-02-24 02:16:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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