Stems Cells Are Advancing the Field of Regenerative Medicine
Stem cells have the potential to forever change the face of modern medicine. These small but mighty cells are helping us understand – and treat – a broad scope of health conditions and diseases. Specialized human cells that have the ability to divide and morph into other types of cells, stem cells are proving to be viable pain management tools. Not only can they treat hip pain, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, but stem cells may also provide a solution for certain blood cancers, organ failure, and immune disorders. More on that later.
The more we learn about the potential benefits of stem cells, the better prepared we are for the future. But stem cell research would be nowhere without those that first started the movement. First introduced to the medical industry in the 1950s to treat leukemia, stem cells have experienced mixed reactions from the general public and healthcare field alike. Today there are numerous stem cell laws. In this article, we are going to take a closer look at stem cell policy and why it’s important. As proponents for regenerative medicine and the use of stem cell therapy, we want to make sure our patients have everything they need to make an informed decision about their health.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells are powerful. They can help repair the brain, protect us against age-related disease, and improve overall body function, as we saw with this young quadriplegic. Researchers and stem cell advocates believe that stem cells and other forms of regenerative medicine may be able to treat conditions previously thought untreatable.
Before we take a look a back at the history of stem cell policy, let’s go over the different types of stem cells:
- Embryonic stem cells – Scientists harvest these stem cells from unused embryos and can grow into more than one type of cell. This means they are pluripotent stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are often used in research and are incredibly valuable because they allow scientists to learn more about the development and treatment of disease.
- Adult stem cells – Scientists often find adult stem cells in fully developed tissues of the brain, skin, and bone marrow. These types of stem cells are also referred to as tissue-specific stem cells and are considered more specialized than embryonic stem cells. Generally, adult stem cells generate the same type of cells from the organ in which they originate. For example, liver stem cells will only create other liver stem cells.
There are two other types of stem cells: mesenchymal stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, but for our purposes, only embryonic and adult stem cells are important.
A Brief History of Stem Cell Therapy Policy
Now that we’ve looked at the different types of stem cells, let’s dive into the history of stem cell policy and research. Here is a brief timeline of what has occurred since stem cell research began in the 1950s:
- 1974: Congress gets involved in stem cell policy.
- 1996: The government passed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, banning federal funding for the research of embryonic stem cells. Under this amendment, researchers were prohibited from using human embryos for stem cell research purposes.
- 2000: The National Institute of Health (NIH) released additional guidelines for the research and use of embryonic stem cells. The NIH passed these guidelines on August 25 and said the following:
- Scientists can only take embryonic stem cells from fertility clinics with private funds
- Scientists can only use embryonic stem cells developed for fertility purposes
- Donors must give full consent to obtain embryonic stem cells.
- 2001: On June 7, President Bush banned the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. However, this policy does not impact any research that is privately funded, nor does it affect adult stem cells.
- 2005: Congress passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (HR 810). Under this ruling, federal funding must now include research for embryonic stem cells that were created for in vitro fertilization.
- 2007: In July, Congress passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
- 2009: On March 9, President Obama reversed President Bush’s 2001 executive order prohibiting the federal funding of human embryonic stem cells.
- 2011: The U.S. District Court ruled in favor of embryonic stem cell research in the Sherley V. Sebelius case that was brought in 2009. In this case, a group of adult stem cell scientists filed a lawsuit in favor of funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
- 2012: In a groundbreaking clinical trial, researchers extracted adult stem cells from individuals who had a heart attack. Scientists grew the cells into new heart tissue, reintroducing them to the heart attack patient’s heart.
- 2013: Scientists successfully regrew human skin cells into embryonic stem cells.
- 2014: Specialists use embryonic stem cells to improve sight in a group of legally blind patients
- 2016: President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, overseeing “timely regulatory review of regenerative therapies.”
When talking about any stem cell controversies, embryonic stem cells are at the center. When stem cells were first used for medical purposes, they were human cells from embryos. However, many people in the general public were against this because it meant destroying the embryo. For some, life starts when the embryo turns into a fetus. Following this public backlash, President George W. Bush banned funding for stem cell research in 2001. President Obama later reversed this, as mentioned in the above timeline. Today, researchers use adult stem cells from bone marrow, skin, and other parts of the body in research and clinic trials in place of embryonic stem cells.
Why These Laws Matter
As stem cell research advances, it is imperative there are stem cell laws in place to oversee this research. Although there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells, in particular, the more we learn, the better. Adult stem cells have become a larger piece of the research that is being conducted, allowing us to treat conditions such as:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Blood cancers
- Organ failure
- Blood disorders
- Immune disorders
- Eye diseases, including macular degeneration
- Skin conditions
- Ulcerative colitis
For those interested in learning more about stem cell research, or about how stem cell research policy has changed over the years, please give Texas Partners Healthcare Group a call. If you would like to know more about how stem cell therapy can treat certain conditions, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists today.