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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Successes in the use of embryonic stem cells

As far as I am aware, there have been no successful treatments of a human medical condition with human embryonic stem cells so far. This is not surprising, given the complexity of nucleated human cells, and the recent discovery of embryonic stem cells (1998). Some advocates of human embryonic stem cell research have made some exaggerated claims, or at least claims that, so far, can not be backed up with clinical results, about the benefits of using such cells. Some opponents of human embryonic stem cell research have done the opposite, and would have us believe that there is no potential for medical good possible from these cells that can't be obtained in other ways. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

This post does not deal with the ethical, moral, and legal issues involved in research on human embryonic stem cells, except to say that such issues exist, and are important enough that some people have argued that no such research should ever be done.

There have been some treatments of conditions in rats, using human embryonic stem cells. ("Human" is not a typo in the previous sentence.)

One of these is reported here. Rats with Parkinson's disease-like symptoms were treated with cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, and showed considerable improvement. However, they also developed tumors. Clearly, whatever the ethics of using such cells, this treatment isn't ready to be used in humans at this point.

Another study is reported here. Rats with spinal cord injuries were treated with cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. A group which was treated within a week after the injury showed improvement. A group of rats which was treated ten months after the injury did not.

It is possible that other successes have been reported, and, most likely, other successes will be, perhaps successes in humans, not just with human embryonic stem cells.

See here for a post on a technique that may bypass most or all of the ethical issues involved.

See here for an editorial in First Things on the subject. (Summary: no human successes yet.)

Thanks for reading.

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