Soon after Barack Obama is sworn in as President next week, he is expected to reverse George Bush’s executive order limiting embryonic stem cell research. Scientists say their research has been stifled by restricting them to existing stem cell lines. The resulting boom in this cutting-edge medical technology will benefit California's research institutes in a big way.
Researchers call stem cell technology a "revolution" in medicine, along the lines of the development of antibiotics in the 1940s, or the manufacturing of insulin and other therapies from recombinant DNA breakthroughs.
But why do stem cells offer such promise?
Robert Klein, chair of the governing board for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (the state stem-cell agency created by Proposition 71), says that the recombinant DNA revolution in the 1970s saved the life of his son, and that the potential for saving lives is even greater with stem cell work.
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Stem cell technology has only existed for a decade. And despite the Presidential ban on use of new lines of embryonic stem cells, the advances in research have happened quickly. And, according to Deepak Srivastava, Director of Cardiovascular Research at the UCSF Gladstone Institute, the many possible applications of stem cell work will be seen in the short term (over the next few years) and long term (regeneration of damaged organs could happen in 7 to 10 years, he says).
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Dr. Srivastava says, in the case of one of his patients, five-month-old Ryder Ortiz, stem cell technology could have been a godsend. And it might still BE a godsend, he adds. Ryder was born without a left ventricle, the heart chamber that shoots blood into the body. With stem cell technology, it may become possible to grow a new ventricle, and that would’ve been a huge boon to the infant Ryder.
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But here's the thing: Doctors jerry-rigged Ryder's circulatory system, and it's a process that works – until the patient hits his teen years. In many cases, that’s when the re-worked circulatory system fails. Now, if Dr. Srivastava's estimate is correct, and the technology develops in the next 7 to 10 years, that will be just in time for Ryder Ortiz, who will be inching nearer to adolescence at that time.
Listen to the New Life for Embryonic Stem Cell Research radio report online.