Stem Cell Therapy: Boon or Bane?

Stem cell therapy has found itself in a controversial position since biologists have ruled out the miraculous features this scientifically advanced therapy offers. US president George Bush, recently announced a limited federal funding to the treatment provided by the stem cell technology- but instead of expecting a cooling of heated debates between researchers and his political stand, he was met by quite a lump sum of further arguments. Indeed, this therapy is not cost friendly, but if given a chance to scientifically explore its prospects, man would have perhaps found a cure to the ever challenging diagnosis of leukemia (blood-disorder), spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even diabetes and skin disorders.

Stem cell therapy found a conclusive existence in the 1960s. Stem cells are the foundation cells for every organ, tissue and cell of a body. These are often referred to as “blank” cells, since they can be modified to perform any bodily task, till the time they are not “programmed”. After a period of time, these cells specialize in the role of the tissue/organ they are present in. These cells are also renewable in nature and give rise to more of stem cells. Stem cells taken from balls of cells that develop days after conception are far more powerful, giving rise to all tissues in the body. There are various types of stem cells, one of them being embryonic stem cells, and it is the propagation of these types of cells that the US president and some religious conservatives are against, since it involves the destruction of the embryo.

Embryonic cells are ‘pluripotent’ cells, i.e. they are potential source of regeneration and hence form a very important role in regenerative medicines used in tissue replacement after injury or disease. The US president has approved of using only the existing embryonic cell lines for research purposes, and the global figure of these lines has been estimated to be around 60. The restrictive nature of the policies adopted by the government in US has probed the analysts to fear that US stem researchers would have to migrate to other countries where they can perform research with lesser interference from the government. Research on the existing cell lines would be funded by the allocation of tax money towards the research project. Since funding is inappropriately allocated, private funding remains to be one of the major options.

The cell lines which have been discovered by the survey conducted globally by US lab officials have found their origin in countries such as India and Australia. In India, a remarkable result in the treatment of Perry Cross, rugby player, a motivational speaker and author for Australia- who was paralyzed neck down, has astounded the world. His treatment had been performed in New Delhi by Dr. Geeta Shroff, and the therapy was used using embryonic stem cells. It is indeed spectacular to see a man talk and breathe on his own after being dependent on the ventilator for over 14 years, all owing to the embryonic treatment.

Where one hand this treatment provides for a second life to people ailing in the likes of Perry Cross, the ethical dimension to the use of this treatment is much debatable. The embryo must be destroyed and that is almost like putting an end to a potentially living organism.

Only time can tell whether most of the countries are ready to adopt this controversial medical phenomenon, wherein biologists, researchers, doctors and ethicists are in sync with political aspects involved.

Ankita Kanwar

[Image courtesy:]