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Stem Cell Research


Did you Know?

Adult stem cells treat injury, disease;
Embryonic stem cells have yet to do so

The news of a trial in the U.S. of embryonic stem cells for treatment of spinal cord injury, and a talk in Hamilton by McMaster University scientist Dr. Mick Bhatia, have thrust the controversy surrounding stem cells back into the public eye.

The popular media consistently fail to distinguish between embryonic and adult stem cells. As a result, people can become confused and assume that proponents of the culture of life oppose all stem cell research. The truth is that the Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches and other pro-lifers do not oppose use of adult stem cells, but reject the use of embryonic cells.

What a Stem Cell Is

A stem cell is a cell that possesses all or most of the functions of every cell in the body. The earliest cells of an embryo’s life are stem cells, since from them will grow the entire body with all its organs.

Scientists such as Dr. Bhatia and those at Geron Corp. (which is doing the spinal cord research) want to study how to extract cells from embryos and cause them to grow into cells of parts of the body.

Why pro-life opposes embryonic stem cell research

Pro-lifers oppose this practice because it kills the embryos. It destroys human life at its earliest stage.

The embryos are obtained from in-vitro fertilization, in which there are always some embryos “left over” and not implanted into the woman’s uterus.


The scientists defend the ethics of their research by saying that the “left over” embryos will be discarded and, hence, are destined for death. Dr. Bahktia states that the cells he uses were grown from cells previously obtained from embryos, so that he is not causing the death of embryos.

The pro-life stance is this:
  • No human embryo should ever be put to death;

  • In-vitro fertilization is inherently unethical because it produces “spare” embryos that will be destroyed (in Canada, the law states that embryos must be destroyed or used for research within 14 days of conception);

  • To use cells derived from the killing of embryos is to participate in the evil of putting human beings to death.)

The pro-life view supports use of adult stem cells

The widely reported news of research on embryonic stem cells implies that people who oppose it wish to obstruct science that could result in cures for severe diseases or spinal cord injuries. The opposite is true.

Adult stem cells derived from a patient’s own body are increasingly used to cure and heal.

1000 patients treated with adult stem cells

In Germany, the XCell-Center has been using adult stem cells obtained from patients’ own bone marrow to treat more than 1000 patients since January 2007. The diseases and conditions treated include:

  • ALS

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Cardiovascular diseases

  • Cerebral Palsy

  • Diabetes mellitus (type 1 & type 2)

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Macular degeneration

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Spinal cord injuries

  • Stroke

The stem cells are taken from the marrow in the person’s hip bone, processed in a lab and implanted back into the body. These stem cells can transform into multiple types of cells and can regenerate damaged tissue. The XCell website states: “Our innovative stem cell treatments use the self-healing potential of each patient’s own body to stimulate regeneration or repair.”


Stem cells are found throughout the body. They replace damaged and dead cells.

Spinal cord injuries treated with adult stem cells

The experiment which gained the green light in the U.S. for use of embryonic stem cells was aimed at developing a treatment for spinal cord injury. However, the object of the trial is only to test the safety of implanted nerve cells derived from embryonic stem cells.

By contrast, XCell has treated 28 spinal cord injury patients with their own stem cells. The results, recorded 1 to 6 months after treatment, were:

  • 12 of the 28 reported strong improvement with absence of spasticity and/or marked improvement of sensation and/or marked improvement in muscle control (back, legs, arms and toes).

  • They also reported improved bladder feeling and control and/or improved abdomen feeling and control and/or

  • a restored sexual function

  • 10 of the 28 reported an improvement, with reduced spasticity and/or improved sensation and/or improved muscle control.

  • Only 6 reported no change.

Embryonic stem cell treatment cancer risk

The embryonic stem cell treatment carries with it the risk that it will cause tumors. Dr. David van Gend,  national director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, told the  Catholic News Service: “They never have been and never can be put into humans, because embryonic stem cells form tumors in animals. Only adult stem cells can be put into humans – and have been used now successfully in thousands of patients.”

What Geron Corp. did is to turn embryonic stem cells into mature nerve cells and then inject them, hoping, commented Dr. van Gend, “that there is not a single embryonic stem cell left in the mix. If there is, Geron is putting the patient at risk of a tumor on the spine.”

The cancer risk is certainly one that McMaster’s Dr. Bhatia recognizes. CTV recently reported that part of his research is to distinguish between “good” embryonic stem cells (that don’t develop into tumors) and “bad” stem cells (that do). The question remains why that research is necessary, when adult stem calls carry no tumor risk at all.

Adult pathway cells for brain and spinal cord repair

The nose is another ethical source of cells. The National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), London, is studying repair of nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord damaged by accidents or strokes.

NIMR’s Dr. Geoff Raisman, who also heads the spinal repair unit at the University College London, has written on the institute’s website:

“By transplanting specialised pathway cells from the olfactory system, we have shown that severed connections in the spinal cord can be induced to regenerate and important functions restored.

“These findings provide a basis for future development of surgical treatments to reverse the devastating effects of human spinal cord injuries.”

Sources –
WebMD –
XCell Center, Eduardus Hospital’s Institute of Regenerative Medicine, Cologne, Germany –

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