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Stem Cells Heal Broken Bones August 8, 2008

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement.
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I assume that most everyone knows what stem cells are at this point but in case you don’t here’s the overview.  Stem cells are cells in your body that when placed near other cells take on the characteristics of those cells.  So stem cells placed into the heart would develop into cardiac cells and so on.  Needless to say people have been very excited about the medical potential of stem cells to cure numerous diseases for quite some time, but for various reasons research into them has been slow.  However, in what appears to be a first in stem cell research, doctors at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia conducted a clinical trial in which “nine Victorians are among the first people in the world to have broken leg bones healed using their own stem cells.”  According to the article the “five men and four women were involved in serious road accidents and had suffered the worst kind of fractures. Many were unable to walk and had spent up to 41 months waiting for bones to heal after surgery.”  Patients had stem cells harvested from their pelvis’ which were then grown in a lab, “reproducing countless times to create 15 billion cells in six weeks.”  The stem cells were then injected into the fracture sites along the leg where they proceeded to form bone.   According to the man who led the trial, Orthopedic surgeon Richard de Steiger, most lower leg fractures take 16 to 20 weeks to heal.  This new procedure could heal them in half that time.

This is pretty exciting for a few reasons.  First, its yet more evidence of the effectiveness of stem cell therapy.  Second, and more importantly, the stem cells in the trial were harvested from the victims own body in a painless, non-invasive procedure.  One of the main objections to stem cell research has been the argument that, due to beliefs held by some that human life begins at conception, it is unethical to destroy a human embryo in order harvest the cells.  Since this procedure uses a persons own stem cells it side steps that debate entirely, which would allow research to move forward rather quickly.

Usually this is the part where I’d launch into a lengthy discussion about how technology like this will soon be co-opted by athletes away from it’s original purpose for use as a performance enhancer.  However, today I’m so happy to read about technology like this, which has the potential to help so many people, moving forward that I’ll ditch the pessimism and end on an upbeat note.   According to the article this technology is about three to five years away from being used in hospitals, which is not very long at all.




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