Jan 21, 2012

Stem cell therapies make the next step in their evolution

COMMENTARY | Since the discovery of progenitor cells, aka stem cells in 1978, scientists the world over have been abuzz over the possibility to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. The promise of treating not only genetic diseases, but hopefully one day, the restoration of missing limbs and damaged organs is one step closer to reality.

South Korean government officials have approved the sale of a new stem cell drug named “Cartistem,” which re-grows cartilage in the knee for patients with degenerative arthritis and is injected during surgery. Oh, the joys and wonders of science. This certainly comes as good news for anyone who has ever lived with osteoarthitis – a debilitatingly painful joint disease.

Thus far, investors have committed a total of approximately 23.7 million dollars into the project and the possibilities of return for investors far out-weigh any risks. With an estimated 21 million people living with osteoarthritis in the US alone, the market certainly exists and is hopeful for any scientific advances which show promise.

South Korea's Medipost – along with other drug manufacturers - is hoping for a worldwide license to market the new drug, meanwhile, clinical trials have been ongoing in the US for the past year. Americans are expected to be able to access Cartistem by 2015.

Many of the religious and/or ethical concerns over the use of human stem cells have been addressed. With the discovery of pluripotent stem cells, embryonic stem cells are no longer necessary to develop any of the 220 different tissue types in the human body. Pluripotent stem cells are those which have been taken from an adult human's own body and treated in such a way as to make them embronic-like in their flexibility.

But even with these latest developments in mind, there still remains a debate over the ethics of the possibility of human cloning. But so far, scientists and researchers are not so much looking to clone entire humans, but rather, individual organs and body parts. For the patient waiting for a heart transplant, to simply have a copy made of their own could make all the difference.

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