In our digital age, communication has expanded beyond our limited physical borders. Patients with terminal illnesses, once thought incurable, are able to find support in the online communities that exist to support, inform, and comfort its users. Members of our society struggling with the notion of illness are able to consolidate their fears, worries, and options in a loving and therapeutic setting. It isn’t just amongst each other but with other families or individuals going similar treatments.
Stem cell therapy hasn’t differed in its approach. Historically, there existed controversy regarding stem cell therapy because of the acquisition of its research material. The controversy, sometimes, stemmed from contentious opinions concerning embryonic stem cells. However, with modern advancements in regenerative medicine, there is far less tension due to alternative methods of collecting efficient stem cells.
In recent years, the discussion of stem cells in the online community has told stories of courageous individuals fighting alongside their family, friends, and doctors. This level of introspection, empathy, and vulnerability has truly forged the bonds between the individuals and an audience of readers who couldn’t bear to feel like mere strangers. Listed below are some of the stories, inspired by the positive effect of stem cell therapy, that attest to the unity it is governing.
After A Stroke
Sonia Olea suffered from a stroke – the right side of her body partially paralyzed to the point where simple tasks, like making a phone call, required more than she could give. After six months, her predicament and its difficulties fully sank in when she asked herself “how could this be happening to me?”. There wasn’t much of an answer she could receive since strokes can strike an individual in, what appears to be, a purely random fashion. A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a vessel in the brain and cuts of blood flow.
As a result, brain cells – withheld from proper oxygen and nutrients supplied by the blood – begin to rapidly die within minutes. Sonia, after fighting back her depression, did everything she could to move on and recover. After a year, she enrolled in a stem cell-based clinical trial led by CIRM grantee Gary Steinberg, chairmen of the Department of Neurosurgery at Standford School of Medicine. The clinical trial intended to do something revolutionary: transplant bone marrow stem cells into her brain. After the surgery, Sonia noted that “the improvement was almost instantaneous. When I awoke, my speech was strong. I could lift up my feet and keep them in the air. I even raised my right hand.” Sonia was one of two patients, out of eighteen, who got better the same day after surgery and continued to improve throughout the year.
Hope After Parkinson’s
Bruce Wisnicki, and like so many other Parkinson’s patients, had to deal with the reality of their disease taking control of their life when they were told that the medication – meant to control their symptoms – would eventually lose its effectiveness. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease the depletes the dopamine-producing brain cells causing many symptoms, such as erratic muscle spasms and jerked movements.
Over time, the medication loses its effectiveness, and even then, not everyone has the luxury to stay on the expensive treatment. As Bruce stated, “I spend half of my day, functioning, and the other half of my day trying to function”. His only hope is a cure to be found in stem cell research so “millions of more people do not have to wait.” In recent studies, that hope is advocated by “little rat feet”. A clinical model of Parkinson’s in a rat has shown improvements in its movements after being injected with stem cells that tampered down activity in the part of the brain overactive in Parkinson’s. This study with rat fetal stem cells points the way towards treatments for a disease that affects 1 in 100 people older than 60.
The Big Deal With Stem Cells
Stem cells are specific types of cells that have the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body, depending on whether they are multipotent or pluripotent. There are various types of stem cells, such as but not limited to embryonic, adult, and induced pluripotent cells. The real controversy lies in embryonic stem cells; cells extracted from embryos, three to five days old, are considered by pro-life advocates to be equivalent to human lives. The reason being: a blastocyst – containing approximately 150 cells – are pluripotent cells capable of specializing into a wide assortment of cells to bolster the creation of life. Therefore, the supporters of pro-life consider the usage of embryonic stem cells in research as unethical conduct.
Approval of stem cell research is seemingly contingent upon policy conditions and scientific knowledge of the process. Both of these, however, can be driven by perceptions of fear. Support from the public is also strongly dictated by the source of the stem cells; cells derived from human embryos have been the most controversial unless there’s an agreement that regulation is strictly monitored. Approximately sixty percent of persons surveyed in Canada, the EU, and Australia approve of embryonic stem cell research, but only around fifty percent of Americans reported an approval. Religious perspectives also play a part – those found to be religious displayed profound disapproval of stem cell research in the U.S. and Europe.
As a result of such controversy, the focus shifted to utilizing adult stem cells for the continued research and implementation of transplanted cells. Furthermore, the alteration of adult stem cells, procuring the regenerative properties of embryonic stem cells, created induced pluripotent stem cells. A notably positive outcome was circumventing the ethical ambiguity associated with embryonic stem cells whilst providing a near-constant supply of regenerative adult stem cells via genetic reprogramming.
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Why are they so important?
Research in stem cell therapy allows the testing of new drugs, methods for implantation, or alternative treatments for safety and effectiveness. Before using, there has to be an investigation of the stem cells. For example, one area of study involves the effectiveness of using human stem cells that have been programmed into specific cells to test new drugs. In order to do so, the cell must be properly programmed and acquire all the properties of its specialized form. If one was testing a new drug for heart disease, then there needs to be a fully functional cardiac muscle cell or tissue to use.
Conclusion: Coming Together
In conclusion, the biggest proponent for stem cell research is its medical benefit. Public perceptions of the usage of stem cells have changed to a far more positive opinion when coupled with media coverage that displays the improvement in individuals who were wounded, disabled, or ill. Despite the initial controversy, researchers hope stem cell studies will allow them to increase their understanding of how diseases occur, as well as how the human body responds. By watching stem cells develop into bone cells, cardiac muscle cells, nerve cells, and into whole tissues and organs, researchers get a better idea of how diseases emerge.
Stems cells allow for the incredible regeneration of diseased cells – whether it’s repairing or restoring – and can be controlled into becoming specific cells. People who benefit the most from stem cell therapy can range from those with joint damage, diabetes, heart disease, nerve damage, sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, strokes, burns, cancer, and so much more. There is contention regarding the lengths that scientists should go in order to cure the masses, but with recent developments in medicine, there doesn’t have to be any ethical ambiguity. It takes all of us to work together to give hope to those who were once told to give up and that means pushing for better regulations made by legislators, policymakers, researchers, medical providers, and patients. It is with belief in the future of medicine that we give a voice to those struggling with terminal diseases.
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