Stem cells capable of beating AIDS and prolonging life likely to be banned in medicine

The issue of stem cells has given rise to much controversy. There are a lot of companies claiming they can rejuvenate a customer’s saggy old face by using state-of-the-art injections. Others claim they can even beat AIDS. Meanwhile, a fierce debate over the use of stem cells in medicine and cosmetology is picking up in Russia. Can they be an elixir capable of prolonging life? Will Russia be falling behind the rest of world should a new promising method of treatment be banned? According to information obtained by MK, deputies of the State Duma are going to consider all the opinions of scientists and lay down the law with regard to stem cells in this country.

There are four types of stem cells:

  1. Embryonic stem cells are capable of transforming in any organ or tissue. Once transplanted into a damaged area, they can grow into a heart, a liver, bone marrow, muscles, nerves and bones. Today’s scientists regard the discovery of stem cells the third most important event in the 20th century biology, along with the discovery of DNA and the Human Genome Project. However, stem cells remain a mystery in terms of safety during the transplantation of them to the human body. Stem cells can be rejected by the body or cause a genetic mutation.

By the bye, the Church is opposed to the use of stem cells. The Israelis definitely lose no sleep thinking about the stem cells controversy. They reportedly cite the Bible, which says that the Lord has created the seed so that man could make his bread, and therefore the stem cells were created for helping man to cure himself.

  1. Somatic stem cells occur in virtually every “little piece” of the human body, be it a hair follicle or a pulp cavity. The stem cells of this type are not rejected by the body. There are no objections relating to moral principles as to the use of these cells for repairing body parts and organs e.g. the skin, bladder, cornea, bone tissue, larynx etc. They are also successfully used for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, myocardial infarction. On the other hand, unlike the embryonic stem cells, the somatic stem cells have a rather poor growth rate when transplanted. Besides, they tend to form an organ from which they were taken.
  1. Some scientists maintain fetal cells are useless for therapeutic purposes. Unlike popular belief, the cells taken from a healthy newly aborted fetus are often free from stem cells. Therefore, it is unclear what kind of cells is used for rejuvenating and beautifying patients at those trendy cosmetic clinics. The issues relating to moral aspects in this case are aplenty.
  1. The umbilical blood contains a great deal of stem cells. Those cells taken from a potential patient can be preserved for further use should that person suffer from a grave disease. The body will not reject the cells that are actually self-grafts. The high cost of storing the umbilical blood in a blood bank is a major disadvantage. At the same time, some scientists say new techniques based on the use of umbilical cells will be available in 3-4 years.

The pros and cons of the use of stem cells

The main argument in favor of stem cells has to do with a “possible lack of information, which should not be seen as a basis for imposing a ban on the use of stem cells.”

Leo Bokeria, director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery:

“At our institute we’ve been using genetic and cellular technologies for 5 years now. It’s a success. For example, angiostimuline, a product of genetic engineering, has demonstrated terrific results in the treatment of ischemia of lower extremities. We call it a big success because neither surgery nor medications are good for treatment of an empty bone. We’re greatly interested in working with the stem cells because they enable us to help the patient.”

More than 300 patients diagnosed with ischemia of heart muscles have received therapy involving autograft (self-graft) stem cells ofthe patient atthe above institute. There isevidenceshowing considerable improvement of the patients. Even toddlers are treated by stem cells medications at the institute. Other statistics show that 94 patients diagnosed with the final stage of cirrhosis have survived; several dozen children stricken by cerebral palsy will grow into full-blown adults thanks to the use of stem cells.

Yuri Bloshansky, a noted gynecologist:

“Well, I’ve heard things like that before, you know, ‘The Soviet people don’t need genetics or cybernetics. The Soviet woman will never use oral contraceptives’ and the like. Flushing the cells from a newly aborted fetus down the toilet is bull. We’d be better off if there’re clear rules for the sale of those cells. As for moral aspects of the issue, we should never compromise our morals by doing anything that can inflict harm to the patient. Yet we need to take chances sometimes. Look, the Japanese have already figured out how to use cardio-cells taken from the menstrual blood! In the meantime, we’re still sitting on the fence. We’d be falling far behind the other countries if we don’t start using the stem cells now!”

Arkady Kasparov, academician of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, the Institute of Eye Diseases;

“The experiments involving the transplantation of stem cells into the cornea have shown good results. Our hands are tied because we’re not authorized to use these methods of treatment in our clinic. For starters, from 40 to 50 thousand cornea transplants are conducted in the States each year. The number for Russia is 10 times smaller. Our doctors have to work with the donor material taken from the diseased. And the donor material is in short supply.”

The main argument against the use of stem cells concerns effectiveness and safety, “none of the above is on hand.”

Mikhail Paltsev, principal of the Sechenov Medical Academy in Moscow, academician of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences;

“We don’t have any official standard with regard to separation, growth, storage or quality control over the stem cells. There’s no control whatsoever over the fate of a human being after the transplantation of stem cells. Perhaps the whole fuss is doomed since there is no sufficient evidence showing that transplanted stem cells assimilate well in the body. Though some scientists associate the future of medicine with the stem cells, their properties haven’t been completely studied. It’s too early to use then in clinical medicine.”

Vladimir Smirnov, director of the Institute of Experimental Cardilogy;

“The government should take urgent steps and stop the rivers of roguish stem cells flowing to Moscow from the Siberia and Kiev. There’s an epidemic of wrongful use of this material in Russia. The groups of the so-called specialists go around the country and offer a cure-all made of some stem cells of murky origins.”

According to the Russian law, the stem cell technologies can be used only for conducting scientific research or clinical trials. Despite the rules and regulations, many medical and cosmetic companies are trying to make the most of the current situation. It will not take you long to find numerous sites on the Internet that offer miracles ranging from total rejuvenation to final solution for grave diseases. A fee for services will be from $10 thousand to $50 thousand. And nobody seems to feel the slightest inconvenience due to the fact that the commercial use of stem cells is illegal.

While billions of dollars are spent on fundamental research of stem cells technologies abroad, the use of them in medicine is severely restricted in the West. The situation in Russia looks the opposite way: a busload of wild stem cells technologies, and a shopping cart of real scientific research.

In 2005, the estimated value of the stem cells technologies totaled $26.6 billion. The amount is expected to reach $56.2 billion by 2010, going up to $96.3 billion by 2015. More than 300 companies are involved in the development of therapies based on stem cells.

Moskovsky Komsomolets

Translated by Guerman Grachev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov