Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stem Cell Success

Hitting the sack last night to read for a while I did not get to see the 10.00 o’clock news (probably a good idea) but I did hear some mention of a stem cells success. On Twitter this morning I picked up on a story about two people, who were losing their sight, being treated with embryonic stem cells. One of them, a 51-year old graphic artist who was ‘legally blind’ i.e. could read nothing on an eye-chart, and a 78-year old suffering from macular degeneration.

A week after having cells derived from a days-old embryo injected into her eye, the graphic artist could count fingers, and after one month she could read the top five letters on the eye chart. She can see more colour and contrast, has started using her computer, and for the first time in years can read her watch and thread a needle. The macular degeneration patient recently went to the mall for the first time in years.

There’s some about the possible dangers of using stem cells in the article, how they can differentiate into the wrong sort of cell. I read a story somewhere (which might be apocryphal) of someone being treated for Alzheimer’s and ending up with bone growing inside their brain. Then there are the moral issues. Being an atheist myself and more inclined to the idea that intelligence is more to be valued than species this is not an issue to me. And isn’t it also the case that adult stem cells can now be used and that ways are already being found to multiply them?

This from 2006:
Researchers of the Whitehead Institute have discovered a way to multiply an adult stem cell 30-fold, an expansion that offers tremendous promise for treatments such as bone marrow transplants and perhaps even gene therapy.

"A 30-fold increase is ten times higher than anyone's achieved before," says Lodish, senior author on the paper.

Perhaps any biologists here or those who have read up on the subject can elaborate?


Neal Asher said...

Here's a bit of viral recombination along the same lines: http://tinyurl.com/7tbpttz

Michael Stone said...

Thanks for the link and story, Neal.

I have a degenerative condition called retintis pigmentosa. I'm already legally blind and I can tell my sight is still worsening. Stem cell treatment is, for me, the only light on the horizon and it can't come quickly enough.

Graeme said...

I don’t see how the moral argument will work out long term. Some agency somewhere in some country will perfect a treatment of some radically beneficial nature, say a gene that allows the nerve sheath to re-grow in those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, or a simple infusion treatment to correct Asthmas various forms (probably not in my lifetime).

Then the moral argument will change from do we accept that man has developed a technology that creates and sustains life and therefore must have been the will of their god, “praise be to god and cleverness and test tubes and machines that go Ping”. Or do they continue to say? “we believe this to be morally wrong because god created faulty genes as a test of a person or families faith and fortitude in adversity, so we will allow people to die in the full knowledge that there is a cure, and that in dying or being crippled they are serving gods will”. Obviously the extremists will take the second view, but thank the Maker for Darwin, they will eventually erase themselves from the gene pool.

I think it’s just time, and I think that there is a natural process to these moral arguments that in the short term seem a hindrance to progress, but on the flip side provide checks and balances that could simply be overlooked and allow science and scientists to run amok. And you don’t have to look too far back in history to see well intentioned scientist fucking things up in very horrible ways.

My own wish would be for the manufacture of whizzy shiny new spinal disks so I could get a replacement set and have a spine that bends. And there is the final piece of the conundrum, eventually all those people with a genetic wish list, medical at first and then probably cosmetic, will vote for whomever promises them the quickest fix with the least pain… or least risk of an arm growing out their nut sack, which if you’re a woman is a double whammy of bad things :-}

Neal Asher said...

Michael, do you mean the link in the blog post or the link in my comment above? The link above is about gene therapy for retinitis pigmentosa. Let's hope they get a bloody move on with it.

Graeme, you don't have to look back into history at all to find scientists fucking things up. As for the moral arguments we can only hope they end up being resolved as people realize religions didn't produce morality but hijacked it. Then again, that's definitely not going to happen in my lifetime because people are still creating religions even now. But what I would like to see in my lifetime is wheelchairs going into recycling plants, or museums.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

now lets all have money to utilize this!

Graeme said...