Friday, September 11, 2009

Heal Me: New Innovations in Medicine

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.


  1. autumnforest, that's a great article! i've been following this for awhile! they say it's like killing off your immune system & 'rebooting' it! i read an article a few months ago where they did this to a golfer, & he got all function back...that was in the uk.

  2. Libby, I thought about you when I wrote the post. I'm soooo excited about the advancements. My aunt has MS and I think of how incredibly vital she's always been, taking care of nieces and nephews who were blind, deaf, and mentally challenged, she traveled the world, did tons of work for her church, took care of three homes and a rental property...It's just so sad to see her spirit still so vital and her body not cooperating. I've watched lots of members of my family die way early and anything I might have in common with them genetically--I want it obliterated. The only thing I want to share with them is their sense of humor and intelligence. I really believe you'll be living quite an exceptionally different life 5-10 years from now. I can't wait to hear what you're up to then! Keep on blogging...

  3. This article of yours seemed to be very synchronous-if that is a word to what my mom said to me last night on the phone-we were talking about healthcare and realized that without my parents having medicare and me AHCCCS we would be dead-and no hyperbole there-I think just one of the med combos I take is still around 1000 a month-not sure -will check it out. but needless to say to expensive for a wealthy person almost much less a very poor person!! I have never had an end of the world dream-but am shocked I haven't with all of the stuff I believe goes on-Best to you as always Autumnforest-love the new layout -I think I will put up your "Mothman" article as a link/shout out-unless there is another one you'd rather me do?

  4. Hallelujah sister! After having gone through all this cancer stuff the past year+, I know how ridiculous expensive medicine is. Not to mention how beneficial stem cell research could be for solving so many ailments, and how exciting what they're doing is! But hopefully we'll figure out, like you pointed out, medicine should not be for profit. That's the craziest thing we ever came up with. It lets too many people die or suffer who are just as worthy of living as those who can afford care! (Eeek...I better not even get started with health makes me crazy.)

  5. Dev;
    Yup. Making medical profitable is a crime--we don't ask police and fire fighters to turn a profit. If we're going to be a real country with real benefits to being citizens--health care isn't an option. I can't wait until stem cell gets moving and drug companies take a super dive--they're worse than the automakers. UGH!!!

    I can relate. I admit to fear of government run medical. I had cervical cancer at 17. We had military medical coverage and it was a nightmare. Luckily, I survived it (obviously, I'm middle-aged now), but I can remember my retired military doctor drinking on the job. Of course, there's no protections for malpractice when it's government. I think we could set an example for other countries in socialized medicine, but people aren't being inventive, they just want to carbon copy--mistakes and all.

    We definitely need to take the profit out of medical and lower the amount of malpractice suits. Drug companies need to be like utility companies are becoming; they figured out they'll be out of business, so they're expanding into cornering the market on solar and wind and such. Drug companies are going to be in serious trouble if they don't get in on stem cell research and other areas of health care. Personally, I know they're necessary for treating conditions, but I've seen way too many people leave the doc's office with a fistful of RXs. For most BP issues, people take 3-5 drugs! What the heck? For diabetes? 2-4 drugs! That's just ridiculous. Okay, I'm climbing off the horse for now. Sounds like ya'all are climbing up on the high horse for me.

  6. Dev;
    Oh yeah, Mothman is cool with me--thanks. :-)

  7. Here, Here, Autumnforest! I'm not for carbon copying a health care system. But I'm TOTALLY in favor of using the good from the better ones and creating something GREAT here. We have the opportunity to do it. I'd sure like to see it get done!

    And tipping my hat to you for being a fellow cancer survivor. May I be as lucky as you to get cured and go on to live so many more years!!!!! (Of course, I'm near enough middle-aged now. Here's to hoping I get into my 60s and 70s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  8. Courtney;
    We'll be fun old biddies some day, running around at Halloween in costumes cause it's just so fun to play pretend. Almost 30 years have passed since my CA and I have to say that I never even think about getting it again. Eventually,(I think for me it was the five-year mark) you feel just like a regular person with all the regular chances of getting CA. In fact, I do believe most CA patients are considered to have the same chance as the rest of the population once they past that five-year mark.

  9. Excellent article.

    But I wouldn't discount the couch-potato. If one's own stem-cells could be used for cosmetic changes to your body, that industry alone would pay for all the other research for more serious, debilitating diseases.

  10. Ben;
    I have to laugh. I had actually written something to that effect in the post, but removed it. I remember when stomach stapling was a barbaric thing only spoken off by the most desperate people and rarely performed, now it's a lifestyle option. I suspect stem cell work will be much like that. I wouldn't mind if it could lead to not going gray--I hate hair dye--nasty!