Stem cell research is the best-kept secret in the galaxy

At the Senate subcommittee yesterday, I presented five examples of people helped by adult stem cells. So don’t ask Silvio Flegnani how he feels now that he can use a walker to walk after receiving a stem cell transplant from Dr. Lima’s team, two years after a complete spinal cord injury left him as a quadriplegic.

In addition, please don’t talk to Doug Rice who was told he had two years to live in 2002 because of heart failure and several heart attacks before he improved from an adult stem cell treatment. Please don’t track down the 112 people with corneal blindness for whom vision was restored in more than 75 percent of the cases.

Then there is the world’s cutest kid, Joe Davis who had painful symptoms from severe sickle cell anemia before he received umbilical cord blood cells from his brother. By all means, don’t communicate with Barry Goudy who no longer has symptoms of multiple sclerosis after his adult stem cell treatment in 2003.

There are other conditions helped by adult stem cells in early trials, so be careful talking to people about newly-diagnosed juvenile diabetes, peripheral artery disease and many other problems. Of course, be careful surfing the web and definitely avoid sites on adult stem cells such as (showing many of the laboratories and clinical trials involved in the global initiative to use adult stem cells to treat major diseases), (providing awareness of the need to fast forward this work with specific funding), and (highlighting outcomes in real patients and providing hope for many with critical diseases).

Stay away from peer-reviewed medical journals such as Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) or the New England Journal of Medicine containing adult stem cell clinical trial results or you will see that these patients are not isolated examples. Although these articles describe several adult stem cell clinical trials in the US, many Americans have to go to other countries to obtain treatments where the clinical studies range from really excellent to, unfortunately, very bad.

So why, as a 2008 JAMA study reported, isn’t the US leading the way in adult stem cell clinical studies? First, clinical trials needed to bring treatments to patients require millions of dollars to complete. However, this is a rather inexpensive price tag compared to billions spent on caring for these patients, not even considering the cost of human suffering. Second, patient advocate groups are not pushing for these adult stem cell clinical trials because, don’t forget, this is the best-kept secret in the galaxy. Third, the biotech industry, which devotes much more money to research than the Federal government, is less interested in adult stem cells that are often not patentable and cannot be mass-produced as a single product to treat a large number of patients. Most of these adult stem cell transplants use a person’s own stem cells, ones from a close relative or matched donor.

What is so great about adult stem cells? Some people have mentioned that it is a good way to avoid tumor formation, immune rejection of cells and even moral controversy, but don’t let people know this.

Very seriously, although basic scientific research needs continued support, more Federal funding (through the NIH, Department of Defense, and the Veterans Administration) is needed to fund the preclinical safety studies and the clinical trials using adult stem cells. More emphasis needs to be placed on bringing successful adult stem cell treatments to the patients and their families that are suffering.

It is time for patients, their families and friends to demand that more funding be directed to adult stem cell clinical trials so these effective treatments can become standard-of-care for all Americans.

Dr. Jean Peduzzi Nelson is an Associate Professor at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

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