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March 30, 2010

Adult Stem Cells Could Save Your Life

Being pro-life is much more than being opposed to abortion.  We at United Families International enjoy sharing with you other pro-life news"”some good news too. We just learned that a new cord blood bank and stem-cell lab is opening near our headquarters in Arizona. It means our neighbors and community will have greater access to the life-saving technologies now emerging from the field of adult stem (AS) cell research. The stem-cell center also plans to produce adult stem cells for researchers in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.  

For those of you unfamiliar with cord blood banks, they are facilities that process blood drawn from the umbilical cord of a newborn child and store it until a future date when the blood could become a life-saving cure for the child or its family. Umbilical cord blood saves lives through being a rich source of adult stem cells that are genetically distinctive to a family and ideal for stem cell reparative therapies. These adult stem cells can be used to treat any number of diseases including cancer and various autoimmune diseases. Therefore, by storing a newborn's cord blood you can protect the lives of members of your family without doing any harm to you, your baby, or another life.

There is a lot of great news coming out of the field of AS cell research. Unfortunately you probably aren't hearing much of this great news because it means one thing"”the demise of embryonic stem cell research.  

The end of the Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) Debate?

For over a decade scientists have been touting the potential of embryonic stem (ES) cells to cure any number of diseases from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer's. The embryonic stem cell debate was among the controversies surrounding the 2004 U.S. presidential election.  Prominent public figures and Hollywood elites battled over the funding of ESC research and whether or not it would allow actor Christopher Reeves to walk again or actor Michael J. Fox to be cured of Parkinson's disease .  The media around the world has been spinning a similar line to promote this research for decades, presenting it as the only sure means to saving countless lives.

Those on the pro-life side who have opposed ES cell research, which requires the intentional destruction of human embryos for the sake of medical research, have been painted as villains who lack empathy for those suffering from the devastating diseases ES cells promise to save. Just last year 
President Obama lifted former President Bush's  ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research claiming it possessed "the most remarkable potential of any scientific discovery ever made with respect to human health."

However, billions of dollars have been spent on embryonic stem cell research and well over ten years have passed since the creation of the first human embryonic stem cell culture and what has the research produced?  Nothing. That's right, nothing.  Embryonic stem cells have not successfully treated a human condition of any kind, while proving to cause serious complications such as tumor formation and immune rejection.  

Adult stem cells, on the other hand, cells taken ethically from the organs or tissue (including cord blood) of patients or donors, have been used successfully in treating nearly 80 conditions, such as brain cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, lymphoma, diabetes, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, gangrene, and sickle cell anemia, to name a few.  Over the years, the major media's sparse reporting of the many stem cell successes conveniently left out the fact that these cures were adult stem cell cures, not a result of embryonic stem research.

So why the push for embryonic stem cell research?

For years, proponents argue that the unique cellular structure of ES cells holds the potential for breakthroughs impossible in AS cells. This, they claim, is due to two major issues. First, proponents claim that ES cells can be easily grown in culture, while AS cells are rare in mature tissues and difficult to isolate. This is an important factor given the large number of cells necessary for stem cell therapies. Second, proponents claim that ES cells have the potential to give rise to nearly any tissue in the adult body, a characteristic known as pluripotency, a flexibility AS cells lack.

Within the last few years, both of these arguments have been proven wrong. Thanks to creative new processing techniques and companies such as the cord blood bank arriving in Arizona, adult stem cells can be easily and effectively harvested without destruction of or harm to any human life. Furthermore, this tissue is most often derived from the patient or a relative, resulting in a genetic match that prevents the immune rejection common to ES cell treatments.

Even more importantly, researchers recently discovered a way to reprogram human skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells , meaning that these cells have nearly the same genetic flexibility, or pluripotency, as ES cells. Known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, these new cells not only match but surpass the potential of ES cells. In fact they are easier and more efficient to obtain than ES cells and do not require the destruction of a human embryo. Additionally, iPS cells originate from the patient, greatly reducing the possibility of immune rejection.

These new breakthroughs make embryonic stem cell research all but obsolete, even according to experts in the field. Jane Thomson, a researcher involved in the earlier discovery of human iPS cells, told the Boston Globe, "The world has changed. . . . It is the beginning of the end of the controversy that has surrounded this field. . . . Over time, these cells will be used in more and more labs. And human embryo stem cell research will be abandoned by more and more labs."  

It is important to remember that iPS cell research still has some of the same hurdles to overcome to produce cures as embryonic pluripotent stems cells had, such as tumor formation; but the iPS cell research is ethically sound.

Share the good news

What great news. The world has changed for the better. There is no need for embryonic stem cell research. There is no need to destroy one life to save another. And most importantly, there is no longer any argument for it. Adult stem cells have saved countless lives and are posed to save countless more without ever destroying a single human embryo.

So when a cord blood bank arrives in your neighborhood, feel free to cheer. It is fantastic news. The creation of every new life now has the potential to save another. Do some research and see what is available in your area. Cord blood storage is available in facilities around the world.   If you cannot afford to store your own cord blood for your family, think about donation. It requires nothing on your part and goes to advance adult stem cell research and treat patients in need. The future of adult stem cell research is bright and literally full of life. Share the good news.

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