Who is being treated with adult stem cells?

In the United States animals are being treated with adult stem cells, instead of having surgery or other painful treatments. Human beings, however, cannot get access to adult stem cell treatments in the US. Celebrities travel out of the country to be treated with adult stem cells. Why aren’t our taxes being used to promote safe, effective and affordable adult stem cell treatments? 

Fox News recently carried a very touching story about the family of a fallen soldier, whose military partner, a dog named Lex, they wanted to adopt in their son’s memory. Cpl. Dustin Lee lost his life in a shrapnel attack on March 21, 2007 and Lex suffered shrapnel wounds to his spine. He was not recovering and so the family sought the help of veterinarian Dr. Lee Morgan, who took adult stem cells from the fat in Lex’s abdomen and injected those stem cells into the injured joints. Lex is predicted to make a full recovery, finally, in as little as 2 months.

The story of Lex is not an isolated one. The treatment used on LEX to repair his damaged joints is reported to have an 80% success rate. (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/11/26/stem-cell-treatment-gives-retired-military-service-dog-new-lease-life/). In addition to Dr. Morgan’s clinic, other companies such as VetStem have been providing ‘self’ adult stem cell treatments to beloved pets and race horses. In 2006 VetStem announced that over 1,000 horses had been treated with their ‘self’ adult stem cell therapy since January 2004.

For the veterinary applications, the stem cells are typically taken from fat tissue in the animal, cleaned up, and then injected directly into a damaged joint or to a fractured bone or to a damaged kidney or liver. The price tag is below $5,000. On their website, VetStem references the human clinical trials that led to the founding of their veterinarian stem cell business. You might ask: if this can be done for my dog or cat, where do I go to get these good stem cell treatments? Unfortunately, the answer would be “Outside of the United States”, to Germany or England or Portugal perhaps. Even more unfortunately, one might find a long waiting list to receive adult stem cell treatment in a reputable clinical trial or clinic. You might ask: if human clinical trials motivated VetStem to go into the business for animals, why can’t I already get these adult stem cell treatments in the US?

If one could get these good stem cell treatments, what would the cost be? In some cases it would be as little as $10,000 to $25,000 if one could get treatment in their hometown or state. But that is not yet possible in the United States. Let’s examine the commercial incentives and costs.

‘Self’ adult stem cell treatments use unpatented sources of stem cells that exist in each and every one of our bodies; in our blood, in our bone marrow, in our fat, and in other organs. Clinical trials using more ‘selected’ patented stem cells have not yielded results as positive as those which use these unpatented stem cell sources. Because the best stem cells cannot be patented, companies are not incentivized to conduct clinical trials with them. That is because without a proprietary position, a company could not recover their costs to conduct clinical trials that may cost as much as $200 million dollars. $200 million dollars for clinical trials to treat type I diabetics with ‘self’ stem cells is relatively a small amount when we consider the billions of dollars that diseases like diabetes cost society each year.

Because the best stem cells cannot be patented, we absolutely require our tax payer dollars to pay for clinical trials so that we can get the good treatments that our dogs and cats now receive.

What organization should be funding these adult stem cell clinical trials? The NIH. But instead the NIH has awarded over a billion dollars of tax payer money to fund embryonic stem cell research and research into alternative embryonic-like stem cells such as the reprogrammed adult stem cells that unfortunately cause tumors.

Embryonic and pluripotent stem cells have the ability to generate ALL of the cells and tissues of the body, and that’s what they prefer to do. Trying to treat adults with pluripotent or embryonic stem cells is like calling in a general contractor to fix your kitchen sink. The general contractor may fix your sink, but you might not appreciate the window, the marble fountain and the shower stall he puts in your kitchen as well. You see, he is by nature a general contractor and not a plumber and just cannot help himself from doing his job of building everything. For embryonic and pluripotent stem cells, this undesirable building is called tumor, or teratoma formation, and the embryonic-like stem cells cannot help themselves. We cannot program this out of them.

As one of my colleagues stated, “adult stem cell therapies are the best kept secret in the [US] ”.

If ‘self’ stem cells are good enough for your dog, why aren’t you good enough for them? Ask the NIH.

If you asked a veterinarian why they don’t use animal embryonic stem cells for their therapies they would tell you “Embryonic stem cell therapies are expensive and the stem cells trigger immune responses and form tumors. Why would we use expensive and unsafe embryonic stem cells when we can treat the dogs and horses with safe, effective and affordable adult stem cells?”

You can ask your elected officials and the scientists at the NIH and the FDA to support funding, research and treatments with safe, effective, and affordable adult stem cell therapies.

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