Could Stem Cells Cure Spinal Paralysis?

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Nov 2000: "Scientists announced that they had restored movement to paralysed mice by injecting stem cells into their spinal fluid"

"There have been many advances recently in this field of research.  There is also much debate as to whether this may ultimately yield a 'cure' for spinal cord injury.  I personally hope that this research will be successful and result in improving the lives of many people worldwide.  There are also many who object to this type of genetic research on moral grounds.  I've written below what is currently known in this field and I'll leave you to make your own analysis.  I like to  believe that this 'cure' will come in time but honestly think it is a very long way off."

Christopher Reeve, who was paralysed at C1 & 2, in a horse riding  accident, and died in October 2004 talking about his hopes for the future and stem cell therapy.  

Video Clip of Interview - Part 1
       

Video Clip of Interview - Part 2
   

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Cloning humans for stem cells
There is a very important reason why we might want to clone humans. It has nothing to do with producing babies. Scientists have discovered that there are cells of unbelievable power which could one day be used to cure a range of diseases, produce new organs and rejuvenate almost any part of our body. These cells are found in human embryos.  This potentially could work to help regrow spinal nerves in those with spinal cord injury

What are stem cells?
Embryonic stem cells are nature’s way of making a human and have the ability to develop into virtually every other cell type in the body. Very young embryos have plenty of these special cells, which have not yet differentiated into more specialised types like heart, brain and nerve cells. ES cells first appear about a week after fertilisation and they are the 'parents' of all the cells of the adult body.

What can embryonic stem cells be used for?

ES cells have amazing potential because they can develop into any cell type, whether it is a new muscle cell which contracts or a new nerve cell which conducts electrical impulses. In animal experiments, stem cells placed inside damaged areas of the body seem to 'know' where they are and turn into new cells of the appropriate type. Scientists are investigating their potential to treat a myriad of human diseases including diabetes (a disease of the Pancreas), Parkinson's (a brain disease) and spinal paralysis. Eventually it might be possible to grow whole ‘spare part’ organs from them.


Where do stem cells come from and why might cloning be necessary?

Embryonic stem cells have to be harvested from early embryos. However, if you were ill, it would be probably be safer to treat you with ES cells that were genetically identical to you so that there was no chance of your immune system rejecting them. In theory, these could be harvested from an early embryo which was a cloned version of you. This embryo would then be discarded.

The deliberate wastage of embryos is one reason therapeutic cloning is controversial. On the other hand, the technique offers such important live-saving treatments that its use is considered justified by many people. Research into therapeutic cloning is allowed in the UK, but it is illegal to put any cloned human embryo into a womb. This is intended to prevent anyone trying to create a living clone.

Where else could we get stem cells?


Adult stem cells

Stem cells can also be found in adult bodies where they provide ongoing maintenance and repair. Adult stem cells are said to be partially differentiated - that is, they have made part of the journey towards becoming a particular cell type. They nevertheless show great flexibility - for example, turning from brain into blood cells. Many people who are worried about wasting embryos would much rather see the development of treatments which use adult stem cells.

Stem cells from cord blood

Another possibility is use stem cells in the blood collected from a baby's umbilical cord just after birth. Some parents are choosing to freeze and store this blood so their baby will be able to call on a supply of its very own stem cells later in life.

Further reading about this research can be found at the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation Website

 


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