Stem Cells: Hype vs. Hope
Dr. Janet Rossant, PhD, is a world-renowned expert in developmental and stem cell biology. She says, “I find stem cells fascinating.” So did her audience at the Canadian Club of Halton dinner last week. Her topic: “Stem Cells: Hype vs. Hope”.
As President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and recipient of many prestigious awards, her goal is to revolutionize the treatment of degenerative diseases, to make Ontario a leader in the development of stem cell-based products and therapies while educating and engaging the public, helping them to understand and to capture her, Dr. Rossant’s, excitement.
What are stem cells, you may ask. According to Dr. Rossant, “A stem cell is a cell, a bone marrow cell for example, that can replicate or make copies of itself. Other stem cells, however, have a unique ability called pluripotency and can develop into many types; examples are muscle, nerve or blood cells. The discovery of transplantable stem cells took place in Ontario in 1961.”
An interesting fact is that cancer tissue has stem cells. Because stem cells can reproduce themselves, it makes cancer treatment and cures very difficult, for one never knows when the cancer stem cells will clone themselves, causing the cancer to re-occur. It is important that cancer patients not use their own tissue to create new stem cells as their tissue could carry the diseased stem cells. It has been found that t pluripotent stem cells with their varied talents have many applications, especially for burn patients who need cell and tissue replacement. Other applications are bone marrow stem cells for leukaemia, nerve stem cells for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer diseases and heart muscle stem cells for heart disease.
According to Dr. Rossant, there are proven adult stem cell therapies already being used in clinics; Bone marrow transplantation for cancer, immune deficiencies and blood- borne diseases. There are skin grafts from stem cells for burn patients, and there are new trials for other stem cell uses underway worldwide. Diabetes, macular degeneration and spinal cord repair are but a few trials underway using this stem cell research. There is hope that in the future stem cells will give encouragement to patients requiring transplant therapy, to those with brain or nerve damage, those with heart, blood and digestive problems such as Crohn’s, and for those with arthritic joint and spine difficulties.
Stem cell research is fascinating and exciting. It will lead to new ways of understanding and treating disease. Dr. Rossant says, “Beware of the hype, but the hope is real!”
Visit http://www.closerlookatstemcells.org for more information.
Dr. Janet Rossant, CC, PhD, FRS, FRSC is the Senior Scientist & Chief of Research Emeritus in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program at SickKids Hospital. She is Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, President & Scientific Director, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and 2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award Recipient.
All photos credit: Janet Beford
(Source – Oakville News, Oakville Ontario’s Daily News Online)