Stem Cell Research - What is it? (cont.)

  • Cancer, by regenerating blood cells
  • Parkinson's disease, to replace the damaged nerve cells
  • Heart disease, to replace the damaged heart tissue
A wide variety of other diseases where the cells are unhealthy and could potentially be replaced by human stem cells that would be put into place then respond to the environment they are in. They would turn into heart or pancreas cells. We may have to help them by providing stimulating factors to make them become what we want.

"It's possible that what we learn from these cells will enable us to custom engineer new tissues to replace damaged tissues. That is far in the future."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is there any hope that down the road it can also help people with COPD?

SHELANSKI:
There is a possibility, but I think it's a distant possibility. That represents a phase of regenerative, reparative medicine, which is still far in the future. It's possible that what we learn from these cells will enable us to custom engineer new tissues to replace damaged tissues. That is far in the future.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How long of a period of time will that be for those of us who have been type I for more than 35 years?

SHELANSKI:
The treatment of type I diabetes by what we will call "cell therapy" may not depend on stem cells. It is possible that pancreatic islet cells, which are the cells that produce insulin, can be transplanted and can grow in number to provide a possibility for treating type I diabetes. There have been some reports of success with this approach appearing. How many years before cell therapy is widely available? My guess would be at least 10 years.


MEMBER QUESTION:
Do we really need to harvest stem cells from embryos when skin cells and blood products have given such promising results?

SHELANSKI:
That is the hard question. We don't know what the limitations are on stem cells from the skin, from the blood, from umbilical cord blood. It is possible that these cells may be able to do everything that embryonic stem cells might be able to do. However, if we use these cells and we fail, we will not know whether we failed because of technical reasons or we failed because we really required an embryonic stem cell. Scientists would prefer to use all possible approaches -- that is embryonic stem cells and other stem cells.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I have been told that in England and Japan stem cell research is being tested for patients like me who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's disease. I have tried to research this online and I have been unsuccessful finding anything. Where can I find out more information?

SHELANSKI:
I have not heard of it being tested, and I know of no success in animals with stem cell treatment for the animals that have the human form of ALS. That does mean it is not being tried, but I don't know the results. I would suggest the ALS Society might be the best source of information.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do you really think that stem cell therapy will someday cure multiple sclerosis?

SHELANSKI:
That is an area where there could be a great deal of promise for stem cell therapy. Would that be the cure? I do not know. It's possible to think stem cells could be put in and repair the damage to the nerve sheath in MS. It is also possible that the new cells would be attacked in the same way as the original cells were, but this would be one area of potential stem cell application.

"I remain committed to the belief that stem cells will eventually be useful in treating a variety of diseases."

MODERATOR:
We have several people inquiring about stem cell therapy to repair catastrophic nerve damage from trauma. Do you see this as a promising area of research?

SHELANSKI:
This has potential, especially as the therapies could be applied shortly after injury.

MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time, Dr. Shelanski. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final words for us?

SHELANSKI:
I remain committed to the belief that stem cells will eventually be useful in treating a variety of diseases, and that what we learn about stem cells will enable us to also develop new drug treatments to treat these same diseases.

Finally, we should remember there are also stem cells in adults, and as we understand how to make embryonic stem cells show their potential, we will probably also be able to use the knowledge that we have obtained to enable us to exploit the potential of adult stem cells in the brain and in other tissues.

MODERATOR:
Our thanks to Michael Shelanski, MD, PhD, for joining us. For more information, please check out the links on our web site for stem cell research and visit the condition centers for Parkinson's disease and other conditions that may benefit from this research.

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