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The Application Potential for Applied Stem Cell Therapy

As humanity slowly works itself into the 21st century and the new millennium, it almost

seems daily that new and exciting discoveries are announced to the public. In the past decade we

have received many innovative additions to medical technology in the many various forms in

concerns. The most notable of these would be the work and efforts put into the mapping of the

human genome. This remarkable example of human ingenuity has allowed scientists to view and

attempt to decipher the implications of the 23,000 forms of human genes. Over time this will

allow scientists to understand and predict what certain genes will pose negative or positive

effects on the individual of question, allowing the eradication of hereditary diseases and genetic

defects in the time between conception and birth.

The extraneous efforts and years of labor applied to medical advancements fully embody

our society’s lust of furtherance and as a whole we have a high level of respect and worth for the

developments themselves, and the developers. This is true because as a human, the most basic

instinct is that of survival. These individuals and their years of hard work are the fruit of that

hardwired natural tendency. Therefore, any opportunity that holds the possibility of fostering

revolutionary medical developments should be supported and acted upon.

Advancements are the apex of a civilization and the drive for pioneering. They allow for

an increased quality of life, improved universal health care, and lessen or remove the burden on

the families of those affected by a disease. One example of research that has opportunity for
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universal usage and application to various forms of diseases and ailments is stem cell research

and therapy.

Stem cell therapy is a practice being developed by medical and scientific professional

that aims at alternative methods at curing diseases and healing damaged bodies. The process

utilizes the basis of human actuality and is the starting point for any and all humans who have

ever been conceived, the stem cell. According to Dr. G.U. Gurudutta of the Indian Medical

Journal, “Stem cells are a special class of cells characterized by their ability to self-renew (i.e.

multiply to generate same kind of cells) and produce progenitor cells which are committed to

give rise to fully differentiated cells” (Gurudutta 16). This specialization of the cell’s primary

directive is the differentiation into every type of cell that the human body consists of. This

process begins at the moment of conception, in the newly fertilized human embryo. The embryo

consists of cells named blastocysts. These specific cells contain multiple embryonic stem cells,

which are described as pluripotent (the ability to differentiate into any type of cell). At this point

along the embryo growth process, scientists would then surgically remove the embryonic stem

cells from either an aborted fetus or an ex-vitro fertilized human embryo (Panno 3-4). With the

stem cells extracted, medical professionals would then culture and guide the cell differentiation

along the desired path. The usage of embryonic stem cells is also the origin of the majority of

controversy surrounding stem cell research. Many political, religious, and social organizations

exist that are strongly opposed to the continuance and usage of stem cell research and therapy

respectively. These group’s beliefs are primarily based off of the guidelines of most religious

practices. In addition, some organizations are motivated by their own political agenda. Nearly all

opposition stems from the usage and harvesting of human embryonic stem cells from aborted
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fetuses or ex-vitro fertilized human embryos. Although the continuation of research has met

steep political opposition, researchers across the world are still attempting to further develop and

understand the mechanics of applied stem cell medicine. Stem cell research and therapy holds

the possibility of fostering revolutionary medical developments.

Although stem cell research and therapy presents such an innovative opportunity for

medical application, many human rights organizations and political groups have a strict stance

regarding the tampering with a human embryo or fetus. Professor Unsoo Hyun of the Case

Western Reserve University school of medicine describes the controversy as, “Those who oppose

embryonic stem cell research believe for religious or other personal reasons that all

preimplantation embryos have a moral standing equal to all living persons, regardless of whether

they are located in a fertility clinic dish or in a woman's body” (Hyun 71). Therefore, the

perspective embraced by these individuals dictates that tampering with and or killing the embryo

along the progression of study is synonymous with murder, and as stated by the guidelines of

most religious practices, forbidden. Fortunately, scientists and researchers across the globe have

been laboring intensively over the past years to locate suitable alternatives to that of harvested

human embryonic stem cells.

The first and foremost studied alternate is adult stem cells (ASC). As described by Dr.

Leeb of the Perutz Laboratories Department of Medical Biochemistry, “ASCs are more suitable

for clinical purposes, as they are ethically acceptable and readily available from many

tissues” (Leeb 10). These cells, although not pluripotent like embryonic stem cells, are

advantageous because they can be harvested from the living patients healthy cells, cultured, and

then injected to the affected area. At this point along the research progression, scientists have yet
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to develop the ability to instigate the adult stem cells to differentiate to other cells outside of their

cell line. For example, adult stem cells found in the cardiovascular muscles could not be used to

differentiate into neuron cells for the brain. Some scientists however are researching methods

that target reprogramming the nucleus of the cell and inducing the cells back into a pluripotent

state. “Somatic cells can be reprogrammed to a pluripotent state by injecting the nucleus of an

adult cell into an enucleated oocyte. This leads to redirection of the somatic cell nucleus by the

host cytoplasm. After several cell divisions, the reprogrammed cell forms a blastocyst, which is a

genetic match with the nuclear donor” (Leeb 10). Through this method the targeted cell reaches

the optimal state of pluripotency and in effect, eliminates the necessity for the pluripotent

embryonic stem cells. The state of pluripotency allows the cell to differentiate into any type of

cell that exists in the human body. This technique is based off that of the research team of

Kazutoshi Takahashi and Shinya Tamanaka of Kyoto, Japan, which pioneered the procedure in

2006. “Using retroviruses to insert four stem cell-associated genes…into mouse dermal

fibroblasts, they showed that these ordinary cells could be reprogrammed to behave like mouse

embryonic stem cells and termed these reprogrammed cells induced pluripotent stem

cells” (Hyun 72). If the continuation of research is encouraged, many of these promising

alternatives to embryonic stem cells could be eventually developed and tailored to human

application. This will effectively extinguish the majority of the controversy surrounding stem cell

application and open the door to a new era of medical technology.

Every year across the population of the Earth, approximately 140,310 men, woman, and

children receive the unfortunate diagnosis of Leukemia, the cancer of the blood cells. According

to thesurvivorsclub.org, of those diagnosed, over fifty percent will eventually succumb to the
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illness and meet death. This particular variation of cancer targets the white blood cells of the

body. White bloods cells are an extremely vital aspect of the human body and the backbone of

the immune system. The disease infects one particular form of white blood cells, the

lymphocytes. The lymphocyte is variant of white blood cells that are primarily utilized by the

lymphatic system. The majority of lymphocytes are located in the bone marrow and are known

as myeloid cells. Current treatment for leukemia is an extensive and brutal process that places an

immense burden on the body. “The standard treatment for leukemia involves radiation and

chemotherapy, which kill the cancerous cells. Extreme forms of this therapy involve the

complete destruction of the bone marrow with radiation therapy, after which the patient receives

new bone marrow from a suitable donor” (Panno 36). With the destruction of the patient’s bone

marrow comes the manifestation of an equally pressing complication, locating a suitable bone

marrow donor. The difficulty of this issue is caused by high likelihood of the patient’s body

rejecting the bone marrow transplant. To reduce the possibility of rejection, medical

professionals are forced with the arduous task of locating donors whose tissue posses the most

minimal risk of rejection. Often times the search for a suitable bone marrow donor concludes

without any possible tissue benefactor (Panno 36). This leaves the patient with a dismal future

and an exceedingly lower chance of survival.

The current medical treatments of the various forms of Leukemia are rarely successful

and often times leave the patient with a gloomier outlook of recovery. Fortunately the research

and development of more advanced treatments for the disease have been underway for many

years and are nearing competition by the day. One of the more promising forms of treatment is

the utilization of stem cells through a specific form of stem cell therapy. “Stem cells, isolated
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from the bone marrow of the affected patient, can be induced to differentiate into normal white

blood cells… Once these cells are collected, the patient’s cancerous bone marrow is destroyed,

and the stem cell—derived blood cells are returned to the patient in order to reconstitute a

healthy, cancer-free bone marrow” (Panno 36-37). Through this process, the difficulty of the

treatment for the eradication and replacement of cancerous white blood cells becomes simplified.

Through the manipulation of stem cells and use of stem cell therapy, the entire demanding

process of locating an acceptable bone marrow donor is omitted. More importantly, because the

bone marrow used for the transplant originates from the patients own cells, there is no risk of

rejection of tissue.

Although the usage of stem cell therapy for complete regeneration of bone marrow and

its application to Leukemia is still yet to be fully research and developed; procedures that utilize

stem cells have graduated to the human application stage. “Allogeneic HSC transplantation is a

common procedure used to treat bone marrow failure. It is also widely used to prolong life of

patients with hematopoietic diseases such as leukemia” (Leeb 11). This procedure would be

utilized at the point when bone marrow transplant surgery is eliminated as an option or in the

common instance of the failure to locate a suitable tissue donor. The usage of this procedure has

assisted in minor alleviation of symptoms from the many Leukemia victims who fail to receive a

bone marrow transplant. This minor application provides a world of difference for patients and

allows the individual to further enjoy their life plagued by an illness.

Aside from the many application possibilities to various diseases and ailments, stem cell

research and therapy can also be utilized for an assortment of other issues concerning the human

body. The most promising of these prospects is the newly developed tissue regeneration
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technology. This technology employs stem cells to biologically fabricate whatever part of the

human body is desired. In the present, one major problem facing the medical field across the

globe is the universal shortage of organ donors. According to donatelife.net, more than 114,000

individuals are in need of organ donations and an average of 18 people die every single day due

to the shortage of organ benefactors. In addition to the scarcity of readily available organs, the

risk for biological rejection increases the difficulty of locating a suitable organ donation. With

the development of stem cell technology has arrived the possibility to completely subtract this

grueling process from the road to recovery. According to John Ritz, a professor with a DTE,

“Today much research is being undertaken to grow new organs using the recipients' own stem

cells. Manufactured scaffolds (structures) are being computer designed that will match the size of

the organ needed. The patient’s stem cells are grafted onto the scaffold and grown … when they

are mature enough; they are transplanted into the human … This may soon be an answer to organ

transplant surgery” (Ritz 6). This ingenious consolidation of bioengineering and stem cell tissue

will with hope yield a new epoch of medical technology. The further positive of this

technological marvel is that the growth of a new organ is free from the use of all embryonic stem

cells and in effect, eludes all religious controversy concerning such cells. Rather than use

embryonic stem cells, medical practitioners are researching the use of adult stem cells, directly

harvested from the tissue of the living patient. With successful development, this alternative

could eliminate the dependency on embryonic stem cells.

Although these advancements may seem as if science fiction, the growth of human

appendages has already been successfly completed. Beginning in 1997, Dr. Joseph Vacanti, along

with his colleagues, began experimenting with the procedures above, which at that point in time
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were still mostly theory. According to the ABC News Network Online, after months of work, the

team of doctors had developed a biodegradable scaffolding matrix enriched with cow cartilage

cells. They then surgically implanted this mold under the skin of a generic field mouse and over

time as the mouse grew the human ear followed. Although the ear would have no aid in hearing,

its primary purpose would be as an aesthetic addition to the head of an ear-loss victim. At the

peak of the growth, the mouse had fully developed a human shaped ear on his back and for the

first time in history, proved that tissue regeneration was a possibility and worthy of further

research. Although this example is a primitive attempt at tissue engineering, it thoroughly

demonstrates the potential application opportunities the technology could yield. (See figure 1)
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Figure 1. Example of Tissue Engineering; “Artificial Liver Could be Grown” BBC

News. BBC News, 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2012

Spinal Cord damage and disorders, either resulting from uncontrollable hereditary

influences, or crippling accidents are becoming a more common occurrence in our modern

society. According to the “National Spinal Cord Injury Association Factsheet”, over the course of

one year, over 7,800 new injuries occur, forty four percent resulting from vehicular accidents.

Most commonly, spinal cord damage is the result of some form of an unfortunate accident. The

trauma inflicted on the spinal cord causes severe damage to its neurological function and reduces

its effectiveness. Today’s modern medicine can do very little for individuals suffering from such

a handicap. At this point, researchers have failed to locate a suitable method by which to return

normal neurological function to the damaged sections of the spinal cord. In addition to the

limitation of certain movements to the affected person, the impairment also places a tremendous

emotional and monetary strain on the affected person and their family. According to “Spinal

Cord Injury Facts & Statistics”, the average paraplegic will pay in excess of $158,000 in medical

expenses in their first year alone. Over the course of the remainder of their life, they will spend

approximately $428,000. Individuals who suffer from impairment from the neck down on

average will be charged $417,000 in the first year and over $1.35 million over the course of their
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At this point along the progression of medical advancement, individuals who hold some

form of spinal cord damage have essentially been dealt a life imprisonment sentence to that of

confinement to a chair due to the lack of any available cure or treatment. Fortunately, over the

past decade, researchers have begun to develop potential treatments for spinal cord injuries that

derive from the usage of stem cells. What is more exciting about this is that treatments have

already undergone trials and have yielded successful results. As described by the United

Kingdom newspaper, “The Telegraph”, in 2003, a group of Korean researchers conducted an

experimental surgery involving a female patient suffering from a spinal cord injury. Her injury

had inhibited her ability to stand up, let alone walk, for the past nineteen years. The team of

scientists isolated groups of adult stem cells from the blood of an umbilical cord and collected

them for colonization. The team then injected the cultured stem cells into the damaged section(s)

of the woman’s spinal cord. Following the procedure and the surgery recovery time, the woman

was able to stand up and walk unassisted with little difficulty. This instance of success is also

impactive because it was an application of adult stem cells contrasted to those of the embryonic

stem cells, meaning that the absence of cells harvested from human embryos will not draw any

major scrutiny from political or religious organizations (Highfield). As published in “The Journal

of Neuroscience”, in 2007, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison announced

important news to the scientific community. At that point in time, the team of researchers, led by

Dr. M. Austin Johnson, had successfully instigated the differentiation of human blastocyst

derived stem cells into neural cells. From this point they further guided the group of cells to

differentiate into pre-mature motor neurons. Lastly and most importantly, they led the cells to
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change into spinal motor neurons. This variation of human neuron’s primary directive is that of

conducting all motor function in that specific section of the spinal cord. The most significant

finding although, was the presence of electrical activity within the cell groups, the tell tail sign of

neurological communication.

In conclusion, stem cell research should be supported and acted upon. At this point in

time along the research progression, many potential application opportunities have presented

themselves. The most advanced of these is the potential for assisting in the eradication of victims

plagued with leukemia. Individuals with this disease could one day have the option to be their

own tissue donor and terminate the difficulty surrounding the process of locating a suitable tissue

benefactor. Stem cells have also been recently applied to the newly developed science of tissue

engineering and regeneration. This pinnacle of medical research utilizes stem cells to externally

grow human organs from engineered scaffoldings that are a match to the individuals affected

organ. Although research is still in the preliminary stages, a small team of researchers has

successfully applied this science to growing a human ear on the back of a mouse. Although this

may seam insignificant, this development demonstrates the potential tissue engineering holds and

has been the guiding light for scientists in similar practices. Additionally stem cells have also

seen impressive preliminary success in the areas of spinal injuries. Scientists have successfully

applied harvested human adult stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of a human new-born

and injected them into the area of a spinal injury. Over a period of time the affected individual,

who could no longer walk or stand before the injection, could now stand and walk without any
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assistance and no difficulty. With the potential that stem cell research can yield, it is apparent that

this effort, with the necessary support, can assist our society in enhancement of medical

standards and increase of quality of life. Unfortunately all of the prospective benefits described

previously will never reach the point of human usage without the essential sanctions of

government officials and advocation of social/religious organizations. Until their support is

gained, the further research of stem cell therapy will continue to be hindered.
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Functional Neural Development from Human Embryonic Stem Cells: Accelerated Synaptic

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"Mouse with human ear." ABC Science. ABC News Corporation, 2 June 2006. Web. 29 Oct.

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Orlowski, Jeff, ed. Donate Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

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