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Adult stem cells continue advances

WASHINGTON (BP)–Non-embryonic, or adult, stem cells continue to show remarkable results in treating injuries and diseases.

In recently reported therapies:

— Doctors in Great Britain used a man’s own stem cells and a new gel to heal his badly broken leg and prevent amputation.

— Treatment with a young Australian man’s own stem cells appears to have healed him of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Andrew Kent broke his right leg in five places earlier in the year in Britain, and three operations failed to bring healing, according to a Dec. 16 report by Sky News. Doctors told Kent he likely would lose his leg to amputation if they did not try the stem cell procedure.

Stem cells were taken from the bone marrow in Kent’s hip, mixed with a collagen gel named Cartifill and applied in the fractures, Sky News reported. A metal cage was attached to his leg to squeeze the bones together carefully. The cage was removed in early December, six months after the method was attempted.

“This is an amazing technique,” said orthopedic surgeon Anan Shetty, who removed stem cells from the bone marrow in Kent’s hip for the procedure.

“He won’t be able to run for about a year, but after 18 months his bones will have healed completely. I’m sure he’ll be able to go back and rock climb again.”

In Australia, Ben Leahy, 20, is walking after being in a wheelchair and having vision problems from MS earlier in 2009. At one point, he was in an intensive care unit with respiratory failure, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Leahy underwent a procedure involving stem cells extracted from his bone marrow. Doctors destroyed the immune cells in Leahy’s body before injecting the stem cells.

“At the moment there’s a good chance we may have arrested the disease,” neurologist Colin Andrews said, ABC reported.

“He walks pretty well, there’s only some mild weakness in his right leg and some visual loss in one eye and apart from that he’s very intact,” Andrews said.

Leahy’s mother, Prue, said of his recovery, “What I got was more than I could have every imagined or hoped for.”

Stem cells provide hope for producing cures for a variety of diseases because of their ability to develop into other cells and tissues. Most of the spotlight has been on embryonic stem cells — mostly because of the controversy surrounding them — although they have yet to produce any cures or therapies and apparently are years away, if not decades, from doing so. Critics of embryonic research argue that money would be better spent on adult stem cell research, which does not involve embryos. Another ethical alternative is induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) research, a growing field whereby skin cells are reprogrammed into an embryonic-like state. “Dr. Oz” of Oprah fame told a nationwide TV audience he believes the “stem cell debate is dead” because of the promise of iPS research.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.