Science has resolved the spirituality and health bioethics debate over using embryonic stem cells for research studies and clinical applications.
Not all faiths agree on when life begins or on whether all life should be treated with equal respect. Some say it is when the embryo is viable outside the womb. Then when it was discovered a fetus experiences pain before that time some say life begins earlier. For some of those in doubt or for some by faith belief, life begins at conception. Regardless of one’s faith belief this has been a subject of heated bioethical debate, a subject of spirituality and health. But now science has resolved the issue.
About 7 years ago a Japanese researcher was able to grow stem cells from hair follicles of individuals, which cells are indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. This eliminated for some the bioethical dilemma of being an economic accomplice to abortion using embryonic stem cells from aborted fetuses, while having the additional advantage of lessening the possibility of rejection.
The Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston is unique in the world because it is the only city that has two collaborative groups. One is the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (CSCRM) and the other is Cell And Gene Therapy (CAGT) Center. Together they enhance the transition from laboratory animal research (CSCRM) to human clinical application (CAGT), which is expected to expedite FDA approval.
The CSCRM Sarofim Research Building, 1825 Pressler Street, is staffed by about 25 researchers each with M.D. and/or Ph.D. or D.V.M degrees from: Germany, France, China (PR), France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and U.S. Each team gets its own funding mainly from NIH, TIRR, etc. Much of the research is on animals utilizing the Japanese hair follicle discovery. The following was learned during visits with each team:
- LIMBS – Humans less than 2 years old can spontaneously regenerate severed fingertips but not cartilage or bone. Research is focusing on lizards’ ability to regenerate limbs including cartilage and bone.
- LUNGS – Inherited lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis are being studied by repairing the damaged DNA in stem cells of victims then inserting them back into the lungs. Unlike blood types there are many more stem cell types so repairing DNA is easier than getting matching stem cells. For example, even a homogenous population such as Japan contains about 25 types. Long-term, there is hope through solvent technology’s ability to strip the tissue from cadaver lungs with the resulting frame used to grow new tissue from the individual’s repaired stem cells. The resulting whole lung would then be implanted.
- BLOOD – Stem cells increase in blood with the friction of the blood on the walls of the arteries. Study is being done on mechanically increasing blood flow and thus friction to optimize stem cell production for blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
- BRAIN – The healing of traumatic brain and spinal injuries is being studied but the challenge is greater since these don’t regenerate as easily as other organs. This is not being studied for dementia or mental illness but may later prove to lessen their likelihood. Nor is there research on the brain’s natural neuroplastic ability to grow through meditation.
CAGT’s south campus Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facilities at 1941East Road contain sophisticated equipment for producing and storing human stem cells for clinical use. The standards are the same as pharmaceutical manufacturing standards for injectable medicines, which includes 3 levels of air filtering and clean environment clothing for staff. Multi-stage, carefully controlled cooling to liquid nitrogen temperatures is required to prevent cell damage from crystal formation. Visitors are able to suit-up and tour as demonstrated by the smiling author’s face taken during a tour on 3/2/12, which formed the basis of this blog. Safety and effectiveness are the biggest challenges to human stem cell therapy. One risk is that there are two general types of stem cells one of which causes cancer.
Bob Hesse is an ordained Catholic deacon and Co-founder and President of Contemplative Network, Inc. (CN) dedicated to interdenominational Christian contemplative prayer. Bob is Vice Chairman and Faculty member, Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH) and Instructor, Rice University. Bob Hesse holds a B.Th. in theology from UST and a B.S. in Chemistry and Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from St. Louis University. He is President/Founder of energy consulting company HEI having traveled to 60 countries often establishing international consortia.