Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Chasing Life: Stem Cells and Aging
By John Bonifield
Associate Producer
CNN Medical News

I peered through the window of an airlock into what might be one of the most controversial rooms in America. At the Geron Company in California, stackable incubators store human embryonic stem cells that are swimming in nutrients - the kind of cells that critics say are grown only by destroying life. The room isn't large, but it doesn't take a large room to grow something as small as a cell. And it's the vast number of cells this room is designed to grow that makes it unique. "What we have here is the world's first and probably the world's only GMP, fully-scaled production plant to manufacture embryonic stem cells," Tom Okarma, Geron's CEO, said on a tour of the company he runs.

How these cells will be used in the future is one of the most contested issues in medicine. In the United States, Geron is positioning itself to be among the first to test stem cell therapies in human clinical trials. It intends to ask permission from the Food and Drug Administration to test a spinal cord injury treatment by the end of this year. In paralyzed rats, it's improved mobility.

We went to the Geron Company for our reporting on Chasing Life , Dr. Gupta's new hourlong program for CNN's Special Investigations Unit that examines the keys to healthy aging. Our investigation also took us to a clinic in Russia where a doctor injects less controversial adult stem cells into patients to keep them young, he says - a claim no research supports. The potential of human embryonic stem cells is that they can transform into more specific human cells, but they can be obtained only by destroying an embryo; Geron uses embryos that were destined for destruction or being frozen forever and would never be implanted to develop into a child. Ethicists swings both ways. In investigating advances into how we age, I wanted to know how these cells might be used. Geron's Okarma said stem cells aren't the fountain of youth, but they will be the pills of tomorrow.

"The whole object here is not to change the lifespan - the biological limit of life. Stem cells are not going to do that," Okarma said. "What we hope stem cells will do is increase the health span - the fraction of our time on earth that is spent in good health."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates stem cells in his new book "Chasing Life," available in stores now, and on CNN on Saturday and Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET.

It was strange listening to Okarma describe how we generally die. We have one or perhaps two organ systems that because of disease or injury begin to malfunction first. They tend to be critical systems. The brain. The heart. The lungs. The liver. The kidneys. It's an inexorable decline that he says stem cells may one day prevent to keep us functioning up until the end of life.

How do you think stem cells will impact how we age? What would life be like at 80 or 90 without the need for caregivers? If we could create cells that would restore the function of critical organs as they are impacted by disease, how would it free us from the burden of premature death? Is it worth the destruction of an embryo?
It is an exciting prospect! Personally, I see no reason not to keep and embryotic stem cells when aborted. Abortion is legal in the United States and it rather seems contrary to limit or refuse federal funding for research into this new field of medicine. I have a friend who has a bad heart, all conventional methods to extend his life have been exhausted and he is very weak. He, and is family are now deciding whether or not to go and have ground-breaking embryonic research done in Thailand.

Why should we have to go to a foriegn country to get the help we need when an organ or illness strikes?

If people have a moral issue with using embryotic treatments, then they should just "opt-out."

The rest of us would love to have this research to be developed and expanded without limit. Federal funds should be used. It it vital for a higher quality of life as we age.
I am against abortion, but then again I also believe that a woman should have the rights of their own body. But then again... a baby is a human form at the time of conception. It is not the baby's fault for being formed, so why punish them?

So no, I don't believe in the killing and studying of embryo's for the advancement of mankind.
I don't think that there should be any restrictions or laws on this other than to keep it a safe medical procedure.

If you as an individual think that using stem cells is wrong, then don't use treatments that use stem cells. Real simple. Just like if you feel that porn is wrong, don't rent a movie or buy a magazine. No one is forcing anyone to do something that is agaisnt thier personal moral code here.

One of the biggest decietful campaigns is that it will lead to more abortions. Besides being patently false...it just plain ignorant...not suprising when you see the folks uttering it. There is a vast supply of embryos that otherwise end up as medical waste (yes...dumped in the trash). Now wouldn't be more respectful of human life if these embryos were put to use to help others instead of becoming landfill material? It seems a bit hypocritical to me that when the people who are agaisnt stemcell research rail and cry and gnash thier teeth about this, they are not complaining about all these human embryos going in the dumpster.

By preventing stem cell research and treatemnt because of one religion's moral code, you are violating the civil rights of everyone else who doesn't subscribe to that moral code. Same goes with abortion, sexual preference, porn, you name it(notwithstanding things that are already illegal like pedophilia and beasteality as that seems to be a favorite neocon mantra when it comes to stuff they believe is wrong).

Just because one part of our society thinks it's wrong, why should the rest be forced to follow that code. That flies in the face of the 1st Amendment.

I see a lot of promise in stem cell research and therapy. I am eager to see more info ont he article published on CNN about Type 1 diabetics being successfuly treated with stem cells in Brazil (sad that because of the religious fanatics in our government, this bleeding edge research is not taking place in our country, but in other countries who will reap the economic and medical benifits of this and we will just langur in our enforced stupidity). As a Type 2 diabetic, that gets me pretty excited as there may be a cure for what is now a very non-cureable disease. Life without being dependant on taking medicine several times a day would be wonderful.

Morality should never be a legal issue. Very few moral issues are universally accepted or even accepted by the majority. Making this a moral issues is...well...immoral *grin*

Bright Blessings to all!
If this stem cell research can help paralyzed people it will be a chance, a new ray of hope for the spinal cord injured. I don't want to be 80 or 90 so much as I want this stem cell research to do some good!
I support stem cell research. In our society unfortunately unborn "life" is more important than a life that already exists. I think those against it would think differently if they or someone in their family were in the position where they could benefit from stem cells because of an illness. It is always different when illness hits close to home. No one wants a loved one to die or suffer.
I am tired of the so called religious people in this country dictating their views. You believe in your religion and let others believe in theirs.
These embryos would otherwise be thrown in the trash so why not use them to help others in need.
It is ironic how much fuss is being made of embryos yet where is all the caring and outrage for all the UNWANTED children born and placed in orphanages and foster homes and all the children that are abused because they were never wanted. I speak from experience and I never saw any help or caring from these "christians". People are pretty selfish and usually just care about their "own family"
Yes, stem cell research is beneficial if it can help someone with an awful illness.
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