Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The New Us

"As stem-cell technology progresses, there's a regular monitoring of it by the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) cell and gene doping panel to see if there may be real potential for doping applications. This committee follows the literature, follows the buzz that's going around, follows the application of these technologies."
Dick Pound, (former vice-president, International Olympic Committee), World Anti-Doping Agency

"There is a point where the safety and the quality even in the private sector would have to be regulated simply from a safety point of view, such as Health Canada or whatever."
"There would be a minimum level of protection of citizens from false snake-oil claims and all the rest of it. If it becomes generalized, and it's available everywhere and ubiquitous, then that will be a different issue. Then, we'd have the difficulty of deciding beyond the safety, and the quality and the cost in the public system, we'd have to ask is this what is for the good of Canadian citizens, in every sense?"
Professor Bartha Knoppers, McGill University genetic-ethicist 

Gary Smith, director of the MStem Cell Laboratories, removing a rack containing vials that hold frozen human embryos donated to the university. Photo by Scott Soderberg/U-M PhotoServices

We're speaking replacement parts here. Making worn parts of the body work again, transforming them from body parts that begin to stutter along and lose their efficacy and efficiency, to altering or replacing them with substitutes, making us as good as new. Replacing viscera that no longer work too well, or a faltering heart, or eyesight that has succumbed to the vagaries of age and disease through a process that is becoming increasingly possible.

Much of what can be done in replacing body parts that have failed is even now possible. We might even be able to go beyond the prosaic of mere replacement, to replace or even perhaps augment, with a newly-laboratory-grown product that makes us invulnerable, or that will give us the dream fulfilled of being imbued with surpassing beauty. What would we do with ourselves if we no longer had any concerns relating to ill health or a physical appearance that is less than ideal?

There are some creatures in the seas of this Earth that are capable of regenerating lost limbs. Now it is possible that humans too may be on the cusp of doing just that. Through stem-cell science, still in its infancy, but becoming ever more likely in the near future to gain us the wonders of regeneration. We will be enabled to enhance our prospects for a healthier, longer lifespan by exploiting stem cell technology, the precursor to every cell in the body.

The key to this treasure chest of future enhancement is knowing how to 'instruct' new tissues or organs from stem cells, to replace any part of the human anatomy, from livers to brains. Healing and recovery or achieving increased muscle strength are all possible, or will be in the foreshortened future as scientists study and research genetics and regenerative stem cell procedures.

 High magnification image of human embryonic stem cells differentiated into neurons
High magnification image of human embryonic stem cells differentiated into neurons (red cells) by treating cells with a growth factor. These could be used to study the development of the nervous system, birth defects or to replace cells lost to injury, aging or diseases such as Parkinson’s. Courtesy of Sue O'Shea, PhD
  • Brain -- Parkinson's is considered a disease whose benefits from stem cell treatment is imminent. In Rochester, New York, researchers implanted human embryonic stem cells into a mouse brain and demonstrated a significant improvement in problem solving. Swifter recovery from concussions represents another research target.
  • Muscles -- Myostatin, a chemical regulating and restraining muscle growth by targeting stem cells is a key target of research. By inhibiting myostatin, animals grow new larger muscles, sometimes double muscles, and human diseases like muscular dystrophy can potentially be treated effectively. The possibility of unrestrained muscle growth has aroused the interest of athletes.
  • Organs -- Japanese scientists last year created "buds" of liver tissue from stem cells which, when implanted in a live mouse, grew into a "functional human liver", marking the first such generation of a human organ.
  • Blood -- The U.S. military Defence Advanced Research Project Agency plans to create an on-demand blood supply with the use of umbilical cord stem cells producing red blood cells on a battlefield, instead of transporting them to the site.
  • Eyes -- The presence of a lifelong reservoir of stem cells in the eye has been reported through research, which can be activated and inserted not only to cure blindness, but to improve vision as well.
  • Beauty -- Stem cells have given promise in the treatment of burns and cosmetic skin treatments. The creation of new natural skin or hair is among the most awaited promises of stem cells.
  • Heart -- American scientists used stem cells harvested from skin, to create heart tissue which, with a blood supply, began contracting at 50 beats per minute, last year. Therapeutic utilization of stem cells for heart disease treatment has indicated limited progress as yet in this area of medical science, which hasn't dampened expectations for the future.
  • Recovery -- The ability to heal faster after injury represents one key anticipation in the promise of stem cells. This feature makes it particularly attractive to athletes, according to Dick Pound, founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Photo: Stem cell patient
Lupus patient Katherine Hammons comforts fellow patient Margaret Laperle, both treated with stem cells from their own bone marrow. Stem cells could launch a new era of regenerative medicine, curing deadly diseases with custom-made tissues and organs. Photograph by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

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