The use of embryonic stem cells has been a topic of hot debate over the years. It is controversial because in order to retrieve the embryonic stem cells- the embryo is destroyed. Nonetheless, research into the use of embryonic stem cells has continued over the years. This research has continued because of the potential of embryonic stem cells as they have the ability to become any cell in the human body. As a result of this ability, embryonic stem cells are being researched for their potential in curing cancer, spinal cord injury, diabetes, and other diseases/injuries that do not yet have a cure.
Kreck Medical Center of USC is one of the many researchers in the field of embryonic stem cells. Kreck recently performed a study in which inserted embryonic stem cells into a paralyzed man. This man has since regained motion in his hands and arms. According to the study, the embryonic stem cells are transformed into spinal and brain cord cells, oligodendrocyte progenitor. The function of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells is to support nerve cells. In the lab, the dose of these cells was seen to improve various functions that are important to nerve impulse. This improvement is what helped the paralyzed man regain function in his hands and arms.
This study is important because there is no known way to cure a spinal cord. Once an accident that injures one’s spinal cord happens- that person is paralyzed for life. This incidence of a man regaining function in his arms and hands- as he was paralyzed from the neck down- is a huge step in finding a way to heal spinal cord injuries. Gaining this function is the difference between living a life entirely dependent on a caregiver and being able to be independent and do basic functions of day to day life. This man was just 21 years old. Imagine being 21 years old and going from being completely independent to needed a caregiver to do something as basic as comb your hair. This study has made a huge impact in this man’s life after injury.
Over the summer I interned for the not-for-profit organization, Paralyzed Veterans of America. During my internship I went to the National Veteran’s Wheelchair Games. At these Games, I interacted with many paralyzed Veterans. These interactions have made me realize how much we take for granted. For a lot of these Veterans, they have to depend on a caregiver to basic things like eat- an action able bodied people do not think twice about. When I saw this study it resonated with me as I thought of how many lives this could improve. This study is the first step into continuing embryonic stem cell research and advancing to completely regaining function in one’s whole body. I’m excited to see in the future the advance the science community makes in healing spinal cord injuries. Also, to see embryonic stem cells at work healing the spinal cord and whether spinal cord pre-injury and post-injury would look identical or would resemble something else, but is still functioning? The advancements the science community is making with embryonic stem cells is fascinating as there are so many potential benefits that can occur for people who at one time did not have any hope for a cure- just treatments.
image one: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160907082248.htm
image two: http://www.saltlakecity.va.gov/36th_NVWG_Comes_to_SLC.asp