Hans Keirstead used embryonic stem cells to help paralyzed rats walk again. His research is the basis for the first FDA approved clinical trial for the use of embryonic stem cells (ESC) – currently underway by Geron and aimed at treating spinal cord injuries. After years of controversy in the first part of the decade, ESC trials have finally started on the path that may let them deliver on the vast promises of stem cell enabled medicine. Yet we have already seen how autologous stem cell therapies (those which use a patient’s own cells) are becoming available in the U.S and all over the world. Why the hold up on ESC treatments? Autologous therapies are part of the medical practice of individual doctors, given to their individual patients. Geron’s clinical trials hope to usher in a new wave of globally used drugs and procedures. The rigorous science needed to obtain FDA approval for such widespread treatments is not easily achieved, but many still lament the slow process. To all of us wondering why ESCs are not yet available in every hospital across the world, Hans Keirstead has an explanation. He doesn’t make an impassioned plea, or take a rhetorically defensive stance. In just 5 minutes Keirstead walks us through the fundamental hurdles that scientists face as they try to bring ESC therapies to fruition. Everyone who wants an intellectual and scientific explanation of stem cell research should watch the video below.
Besides genetics, the application of stem cells is the defining medical technology of the early 21st century. With it we may be able to revolutionize organ transplants and develop treatments for conditions ranging from blindness to AIDS. Autologous treatments hold remarkable promise, but so too do ESC derived drugs which may use the cells of one individual to treat thousands. With so many hopes pinned to stem cell therapies it’s no wonder that many are frustrated at their unavailability and seek to obtain them outside the US. We can lament the slow process of FDA approval, and the seemingly needless politicking and bureaucracy that surrounds it. However, as we seek the benefits of advanced technologies it’s important to remember the very real and necessary scientific steps that they must proceed through before we can all safely enjoy them. Many thanks to Dr. Keirstead and CIRM for the brief but precise video explaining just that.