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Stem Cells - Why Seniors Should Care
You may be healthy now but who knows what the future may bring. The debate over stem cell research may shape your future health.
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I was in the airport on Thursday waiting for my connecting flight. While waiting I spent my time watching CNN. The lead story, as it had been most of the day was about President Bush and his anticipated speech on stem call research. One of the other passengers waiting was very interested. She was there with her teenage son who was confined to a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury. She is among the millions in this country who are counting on stem cells to help heal the broken body of a loved one or to provide the cure for a chronic, debilitating disease. Seniors are one of the largest groups whose health and quality of life could be improved if stem cells prove to be the key to a cure.

Stem cells are the basic building blocks for the human body. There are two types of stem cells, embryonic and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are the early cells that result from the joining of the female egg and the male sperm. These cells, also known as totipotent cells; cells that can divide indefinitely and give rise to specialized cells or multipotent cells. Adult stem cells are those cells that are to be a certain organ or have a certain function. With adult stem cells, heart cells and liver cells are distinctly different and destined to perform different functions in the body.

Stem cell research is focusing on the use of stem cells to produce healthy tissue or organs to replace diseased or damaged tissue. Among the most well known advocates of stem research are actors Michael J. Fox who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and Christopher Reeve who remains paralyzed from a spinal cord injury sustained during an accident.

What does this mean to seniors? Chronic debilitating disease impairs the quality of life and drains the resources of both seniors and their caregivers. Heart failure accounted for millions of hospitalizations yearly and requires millions of dollars to treat. Recent research in stem cell therapy has been focusing on using stem cells to help the sufferer to grow new, undamaged cardiac tissue. The focus is on curing the disease rather than just treating the disease.

The debate arises from the fact that scientists have not yet found stem cells for all tissues and organs. Blood stem cells have been used for many years now by harvesting bone marrow that contains blood stem cells and transplanting that marrow to patients suffering from some blood cell cancers. For many tissue types the only source of stem cells is human embryos; embryos obtained either from pregnancy termination or from discarded embryos from fertility clinics or developed specifically for research. This once again raises the question when does human life begin.

What do you think about stem cell debate and the decision President Bush made concerning federal funding of research? This is an important debate that may affect all of us at some point.
Stem Cell Poll

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