JULY 2009 NEWSLETTER
I think the most stunning, positive news of the month is the work from the Mayo Clinic on stem cells and the heart. A few years ago I travelled to Thailand to visit with the King of Thailand’s cardiologist, Prof Supachai. Prof Supachai had developed a strong interest in adult stem cell therapy for heart disease. He was taking 200ml of blood from a person with severe heart failure and harvesting around 200,000 of the person’s own stem cells, growing the stem cells in a laboratory up to 20 million over a week and then reinjecting the stem cells into the damaged parts usually via a catheter directly down the arteries. I saw some amazing results with people who had severe impairment in their heart regaining reasonable function to allow them to return to relatively normal activity. The heart was not totally rebuilt but certainly much better than it was previously.
These types of results are being obtained all over the world and it is my strong feeling that adult stem cell therapy will be the next big revolution in medicine.
I am not a great fan of embryonic stem cell therapy, in the same way I am not a great fan of reproductive cloning, as I believe you cannot expect embryonic cells to behave like adult cells and I feel we will see some significant problems down the track if we start pushing this line. I have no problem with the ethics of it whatsoever, it is purely the science that I find rather questionable.
Now let’s return to the more valid concept of enhancing your own blood using adult stem cell therapy. The researchers from the Mayo Clinic (again we’re picking on the poor old mice this week) took a group of mice with damaged hearts and took their own cells, known as fibroblasts which are usually part of the connective tissue or seen in scars, and used a process called dedifferentiation. This is where the fibroblasts are converted back to stem cells. They then were able to give these particular stem cells growth factors that sent them along the pathway of becoming heart tissue. They reinjected these cells back into the mice and within a few weeks the mice were developing functioning cardiac tissue.
Once this technique is perfected for humanity, we will see many people salvaged from not just heart disease but also many other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord damage.
I am on the Scientific Advisory Board for an international company known as Zoa Cell and this company is embarking on a large study in diabetes using adult stem cell therapy. Again, taking one’s own stem cells, it will be possible to give growth factors to convert these into pancreatic tissue making insulin. Can you image the suffering that will be alleviated if all of these therapies become freely available.
Thank you for helping me help you.
Dr Ross G T Walker (FRACP)