Adult Stem Cell Research Far Ahead of Embryonic

Bioethics   David Prentice   Oct 24, 2010   |   6:16PM    Washington, DC

The media have rarely reported on the multitude of successes with adult stem cells in the past, preferring to focus on unethical, unsuccessful embryonic stem cells. So it was heartening to see Malcolm Ritter and the Associated Press put out a story that highlights some of the real successes and promise of adult stem cells, as opposed to the wishful thinking and hype of embryonic stem cells.

The lead story is Dr. Thomas Einhorn at Boston University Medical Center, injecting a patient’s bone marrow into a broken ankle that wouldn’t heal; four months later the ankle was healed.

Einhorn, chairman of orthopedic surgery at Boston University Medical Center, credits “adult” stem cells in the marrow injection. He tried it because of published research from France.

As the AP piece notes, it’s an example of many innovative therapies doctors are studying with adult stem cells; stem cells taken from body tissue and umbilical cord blood, not embryos. As the AP story notes:

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.

A few of the examples highlighted include multiple sclerosis, heart damage, juvenile diabetes, and blindness from chemical burns.

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

Many of the treatments, including new ones being tested in clinical trials now, rely on the idea that stem cells can form other cell types. That seems to be the case for Einhorn’s ankle-repair technique, with the adult stem cells forming new bone and blood vessels. But adult stem cells also seem to have abilities to stimulate tissue repair or suppress the immune system. According to Dr. Rocky Tuan of the University of Pittsburgh:

“That gives adult stem cells really a very interesting and potent quality that embryonic stem cells don’t have.”

That stimulation of tissue repair may be the mechanism for the published adult stem cell success treating spinal cord injury, including long-term injury up to 15 years.

To learn more and see some examples of adult stem cell success stories, watch the three videos at Stem Cell Research Facts.