As this is the harvest season, it only seems appropriate to discuss a most precious harvest of all; the harvest of stem cells.
It’s off the ghost hunting theories category, but now and then some area of science intrigues me so much, I just need to learn more. I thought occasionally I might keep you up-to-date on new innovations in science. Today, I’m focusing on medicine.
I work in the health care industry and have a sharp mind for all things medical, so when I see things happening to further our health, longevity, and most importantly the quality of our lives, I’m excited.
One thing I know about health is about 90% of it involves our own input; what we eat, how we exercise, how we deal with stress, what sort of addictions we acquire, how much preventive care we receive, if we smoke, yada yada yada. Still, there’s that nagging 10% of ailments including bad family genes, occupational exposures, cancers, accidents with resultant injuries, and such that haunt us the most with a sense of helplessness.
I’m reminded of the sign my father hung in our kitchen when I was growing up. He put in alcohol recovery programs around the world and the sign read quite simply (Serenity Prayer) “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” I never knew that was a recovery person’s prayer was, I simply thought it was good common horse sense (God out of the saying, it still makes a lot of sense). There is much in medicine physicians can't control, like patients' lifestyle, but reasearchers can come up with therapies and innovations to help ease debilitating conditions (and hopefully kill the pharmaceutical industry in the process).
Aside: One day, I sat in my doctor's waiting room and listened to a pharmaceutical rep brag about how many hundreds of dollars she gets from each drug a week to take doctor's to lunch. Next time you're staring at the poster with a drug's name on it and leave the office with a chicken scratch piece of paper, consider the source: Your doctor has been bought and sold. It's like the oil industry, until we get reliable alternative fuels, they have us where they can profit. Some day, in an ideal world, health care will be nonprofit like police, libraries, firemen, et cetera. For now, they're influenced by the big money. Let's move that big money from drugs to cures! I'd much rather a stem cell company make earnings than a drug company that makes money on you never getting better. (p.s. this is the point where I climb down from my high horse)
This post isn't for the beer swilling, sedentary, cholesterol-eating dude on the sofa. This one is for the 10% who suffer from or might eventually suffer from things out of their control like cancer and heritable diseases.
Stem-Cell research: This was, as we all know, put on the backburner when a right-wing, fearful bastard who gave Christians a bad name was in our presidential seat for eight of the longest years of my life. (okay, I climbed back on the high horse for a moment there)Thankfully, a new president with intelligence, an open mind, and lack of fearfulness, along with a wife in the health care industry, has made it possible for us to continue this important research. Because smart people didn’t completely abandon stem-cell research, we were able to find out that cells from one’s own fat could be potentially used as stem cells in any part of one’s body. How exciting is that? Moral issues aside about fetal stem-cells, had we not introduced early knowledge that route, we wouldn’t have realized that there are other potential areas to probe for viable stem cells by comparison.
Wikipedia probably explains it best: “Stem cell treatments are a type of cell therapy that introduce new cells into damaged tissue in order to treat a disease or injury. Many medical researchers believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to change the face of human disease and alleviate suffering. The ability of stem cells to self-renew and give rise to subsequent generations that can differentiate offers a large potential to culture tissues that can replace diseased and damaged tissues in the body, without the risk of rejection.”
There is the potential to cure some conditions such as Parkinson's, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, arthritis, and heart disease. In fact, in a very small trial of stem cell therapy, it was found to stop the progression of multiple sclerosis and to reverse damage.
How long before we’re using stem cell therapy regularly amongst the population? It depends on the condition being treated. Trials are beginning for some conditions like MS and spinal cord injuries. The projection is that within 10 years many conditions will have been tested and ready to go out for public consumption. As someone from a family of heart disease and arthritis, I am heartily welcoming the heralding of a new kind of aging.