Navigating Healthcare – Patient Safety and Personal Healthcare Management

Stem Cells – Myth and Reality

Posted in Genetics, Healthcare Information, Stem Cells by drnic on November 16, 2009

NPR ran an interview (Stem Cells the Untold Stories) with Dr Doris Taylor a pioneer in the science of regeneration who is known for bringing dead heart tissue back to life. The discussion was revealing on so many fronts and is worth highlighting some of the details especially as they relate to Stem cells. As she points out if

we had found different vocabulary to discuss stems cells in public at the outset, distinguishing between fetal and embryonic cells, explaining the origins of the cells used in research, and illuminating the larger story of stem cells.

There is a significant difference between these two forms and they get confused in the media and in general discussion.

stem cells are really very simple. They’re cells that can do two things: They can make more of themselves or self-renew, and they can, quote “differentiate,” become a lot of different things, differentiate. And, really, we have stem cells everywhere in our body. …. I believe aging is a failure of stem cells. That every organ or tissue in our body for the most part has stem cells in it…..The word that’s used is embryonic stem cell, and the concept is that we’re taking fetuses and using those to create cells for medicine. That is just not true. Fetal cells are already muscle, already heart, already lung. They’re not stem cells anymore

In fact Stem cells are involved in healing and repair all the time – every time you scratch or damage you skin stem cells help int he repair. As we get older that repair process declines in effectiveness and how good the repair looks to the original. Think about the baby who gets a cut vs the elderly mother. The baby might show no scar, the mother a much clearer scar indicating the location, size and severity of the damage.

Stem cells are involved in so many aspects of our bodies. Linked to aging and the clock on every cell – the little piece of DNA at the end of every chromosome called a telomere. Every time your cell divides this gets shorter eventually reaching a point (cell death?) that is too short and no more division is possible. Unfortunately stress shortens these telomeres and hence actually ages your stem cells. If you believe that’s true (and the evidence is compelling and I do) that means it ought to be possible to reverse stress and make your cells younger. In a study of one (Matthieu Ricard a famous French philosopher Buddhist who’s worked with the Dalai Lama who wrote a book called Happiness) reviewed stem cells in the blood before and after meditation – they found a huge increase in the number of positive stem cells in blood.

Largest increase I’ve ever seen after 15 minutes of meditation.

Start meditation now – in fact I can recommend this book – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari for all you business types! And other types of damage or disease can be seen as a failure of stem cells – cancer for instance

Cancer is basically cells gone bad. It’s cells that no longer know when to stop dividing. What’s a stem cell? A stem cell’s a cell that can self-renew, make a lot of itself and keep dividing, and become a lot of different things. What’s a tumor cell? It’s a cell that can make a lot of different cells and become a lot of different things. In some ways they’re very similar, but a stem cell has the signals that know when to stop dividing. Tumor cells don’t.

Cancer could be some dysfunction of stem cells as the body tries to combat aging and the failure of the stem cell repair mechanisms.

Some highlights in Stem Cell research suggests

  • that decreasing stress increase the number of stem cells that you have in your body and in your blood
  • Meditation increases the number of positive stem cells
  • men and women have different numbers and different kinds of stem cells – perhaps part of the reason why men develop heart disease earlier than women as they lose stem cells faster
  • Cancer is some kind of dysfunction of stem cells
  • Aging is reversible and stem cells are part of the answer

As Dr Taylor puts it

Drive carefully. We have two cemeteries and no hospital. And that’s really how we have to approach this field. Drive carefully. And yet we’ve got to keep driving because it matters. It matters. And we can already do things that 10 years ago we thought were absolutely undoable

Don’t wait for something to touch your life to understand the opportunity before us

people usually don’t care about things until it touches their lives. And once it touches their lives their perception changes. And I can’t tell you the number of people who don’t believe in research or don’t believe in science or don’t believe in innovative approaches to medicine until it’s their daughter or son or brother. And then all of a sudden, they’re at least open to the conversation

Go spend some time in the pediatric intensive care facility, with the disabled child struggling to sit up, the Veteran who lost a limb, the incapacitated grandparent who cannot watch her grandchild play because she needs oxygen therapy constantly, or the parent who wants to see their child reach double digits.

I’ll publish any intelligent commentary, debate or opinions. In fact I welcome intelligent discussion and debate. Can you see it or is such a polarizing issue that we will medicine continue to languish with restricted access to essential tools and techniques derived from Stem Cells?

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