Stem cells promise big breakthroughs in treating disease
January 21, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- The term "stem cells" hasn't slipped into everyday language yet, but doctors and researchers believe that some day they will be used to treat all sorts of ailments, from heart disease to skin burns to Parkinson's disease.
"We're talking about new technologies that are going to revolutionize medicine," says Dr. Joseph Itskovitz of Rambam Medical Center in Israel.
So what exactly are stem cells? They're "blank" cells that potentially can be turned into virtually any tissue in the human body, creating a supply of spare body tissues.
"Imagine you can grow up millions of cells in a dish, and then by giving a signal of some sort, you can then convert those cells into a million neurons of some kind or a million cardiac muscle cells," says Dr. John Gearhart of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution.
What would doctors do with a supply of cardiac muscle cells? Well, when someone has a heart attack, the cells are damaged. But a dose of new cells, made in the lab, could heal the damage.
So when will all this happen?
"I think with certain cell types, we could certainly consider a 5- to 7-year period as being within reach," Gearhart says.
So far, only three universities have managed to manufacture stem cells in a lab. To do so, they had to start with a human embryo or fetus.
Gearhart used aborted fetuses in his work; Itskovitz used fertilized eggs that were in a lab and no longer needed by couples undergoing fertility treatments.
While some religious leaders object to this type of research, this week the National Institutes of Health said it would start funding it.
Doctors say the federal funding will speed up stem cell research tremendously.
Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.