I recently read an article from ABC news concerning the interplay between the new Trump administration and stem cells. With the new Trump administration, there is much banter that Stem Cell Research will be significantly diminished or in some other way changed. This appears to be an alarming idea at face value. Stem cells promise to change the face of virtually all fields of medicine from cancer treatment to osteoporosis to the treatment of osteoarthritis. When we look at the costs of managing these diseases for just these three diseases alone, the numbers can be staggering. The savings to our government could help subsidize health care for everyone and still have money left over to help rebuild our infrastructure. Much of the discussion about the change in the direction of stem cell research comes from a group of physicians who have a vested interest in embryonic stem cell research. I would like to make some comments on these concepts from a non-political but scientific point of view.
There are two types of stem cell research. One field of thinking involves embryonic stem cells. The other field involves adult stem cells. These two fields have been competing for many years now. They are vastly different fields. Embryonic stem cells involve stem cells derived from embryonic tissue. Vice president-elect Pence has said that these cells hold an "empty promise." Let us look at this premise. Do embryonic stem cells hold an empty promise? Given our current technology they have promise but it is a very questionable promise. With our current knowledge, these cells are dangerous. They can cause tumors. They can grow unchecked in the body and actually attack the body and cause what is called a ‘Graft versus Host’ disease. So it looks like Vice President Elect Pence was not too far off the mark about embryonic stem cells. Right now they really do hold an empty promise. The researchers who are involved in embryonic stem cells would disagree with this assumption. We must realize that there are many alternatives to embryonic stem cells. The article mentions IPS cells. These cells hold promise, but they are still technically challenging. The IPS cells are made by altering the cell’s genetic material with either a virus or by enzymatic means. There is some evidence that these cells can encourage the development of a cancer. Also after a period of time, they seem to lose their effectiveness. They hold promise but right now they are not a panacea.
Adult stem cells hold great promise across a broad spectrum of fields. There is extensive evidence the adult stem cells are safe, effective, and readily available. Interestingly, much of the real gains that have been achieved with stem cells have come from the use of adult stem cells. The adult stem cells come from either the patient himself or they are harvested from other patients. If it comes from the patient himself, it is considered an autograft while those from another person is called an allograft. The stem cells from the patient have little if any danger. We have a source of cells that are readily available, work well, and pose little if any danger. Where the research really needs to be done is to make these cells do their job more efficiently. We know that certain growth factors and supplements will greatly enhance our results. Laser energy seem to increase cell survival and efficiency. The cell type itself may hold great promise. We are very familiar with mesenchymal and hematopoietic stem cells, but the real game changer may be what we call ‘V cells’. V cells are Very Small Embryonic Stem Cells. They are found in everyone. Their uniqueness is that they are pluripotent. This means that they can form almost any type of cell. This is where some research money should be spent. Our office has the distinct privilege being one of the few facilities that are utilizing these cells.
One other stem cell aspect for the new administration is the ‘Regrow Act’ which has been stalled in a Senate committee since this spring. There have been some scientific groups that have opposed the Regrow Act. "The REGROW Act, S. 2689, bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reduce barriers to medical innovation and accelerate the development of new regenerative medicine treatments, which have the potential to restore or establish normal function in damaged human cells and tissues." Major scientific groups have issued statements opposing the act. Their opposition may be based on monetary gain. Some of these groups like the flow of federal funds to their labs. Some companies want to figure out how a huge financial gain can come their way from Stem Cell Therapy. The bottom line is that these groups may not have the general public's best interest at heart. This act makes it easier for smaller companies to put forth their technologies without bankrupting the company. I do not necessarily agree with all provisions of the Regrow Act, but I feel it is a giant step in the right direction. With safety as an overriding concern, we need to speed along promising treatments and not let them wallow in some lab where some facilities are slowing down research to keep the federal funds flowing to their facilities. Hopefully, with the new administration, there will be a new approach to the Regrow Act and a consensus can be found between the politicians, academic groups and clinical groups. Everyone's ultimate goal should be to make treatments available to the populous in an efficient, safe and acceptable manner and put everyone's special interest aside.
Thanks, Dr. P