Many well-meaning people have become very confused and overwhelmed by the muddied media reports about stem cells, unintentional or otherwise. Here is a quick, simplified outline to help clear the air about stem cells:
Two Major Types of Human Stem Cells
1. Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs)
Human egg and sperm are combined in the lab to make a fertilized human zygote. This human zygote is then allowed to divide to about the 8-cell stage and then it is destroyed for the stem cells. To destroy human life at any stage has always been considered immoral and unethical.
Not one — not even one — successful human treatment with embryonic stem cells has yet occurred. To the contrary, medical tests using embryonic stem cells have actually had disastrous results. ESC often grow uncontrollably and have produced tumors in people that have caused death or serious damage.
2. Non-Embryonic Stem Cells
Non-Embryonic Stem Cells do not result in the death of a human being and so are considered a morally and ethically acceptable source of stem cells.
There are several sources for Non-Embryonic Stem Cells:
a. Adult Stem Cells (ASCs)
b. Newborn Placental (afterbirth) Stem Cells
c. Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells
Adult Stem Cells (ASCs) can be obtained from any person’s blood, fat (adipose) tissue, bone marrow, muscle tissue — even from baby tooth pulp and recently from heart (cardiac) muscle tissue. Stem cells can be coaxed in the lab into many other types of cells, including nerve cells.
Adult stem cells are being used now, and have already been used in dozens of research studies. Literally hundreds of successful medical treatments have taken place using adult stem cells. Because of the tremendous success of adult stem cell research, scientists are very excited about all the possible medical treatments that ASCs will be able to accomplish in the future.
Now that researchers have been studying them for awhile, they know where to find them. The ASCs are found more frequently in damaged areas in the body. As one scientist noted (paraphrased), “You look for an ambulance near an accident.”
For decades, we have been performing bone marrow transplants. Now we understand that stem cells are involved in the success of those transplants.
A great advantage of ASCs is that they are from the same person they are used to heal; thus, there are no rejection problems. ASCs have recently been used in studies to treat damaged hearts. The ASCs are located, removed, multiplied, and returned to the patient. Improvement in patients who received ASCs was significantly better than in patients who did not receive the ASC treatment.
Placental Stem Cells and Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells are also showing great potential. Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells can be stored indefinitely in Cord Blood Banks.
At this time, most hospitals do not mention to parents that their children’s placental and umbilical cord blood can be stored in blood banks. Only about 1% of this vast source of stem cells is now being stored. Some legislation is pending which would require that hospitals inform parents of this option.
There are public and private cord blood banks, and these are discussed elsewhere in this website.
Cord Blood Participating Hospitals
The National Marrow Donor Program maintains a Web page on donating cord blood at http://www.marrow.org/NMDP/cord_blood_bank_list.html
For more information, please click here.
For an excellent update on recent scientific stem cell research, click here.
For updates on successful adult stem cell treatments, visit www/stemcellresearch.org.
Adult and umbilical cord stem cells are ethical sources of stem cells, and are presently treating 60-80 human diseases.