December 6, 2019

Guest Commentary: Stem cell science changes lives

By Ava Roesslein

Many people go through life with unlimited hopes and dreams, but mine are different. I have a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. Since birth, I’ve struggled with things most people do simply, such as walking. For years I’ve been wondering if I’d be lucky enough to be cured of this disease, and two words could change the lives of disability patients like me forever — stem cells.

The Stem Cell Institute (SCI) in Panama City, Panama, opened in 2006 and has treated more than 1,500 patients to date. The clinic interacts with colleagues in the United States and internationally. They use stem cells as part of clinical trials to integrate the most recent advances in patient care. The institute is also the only stem cell clinic in the world that is owned by an American scientist, and not a medical doctor.Now, I know what some people are likely thinking: “That’s great, but stem cells raise a lot of political and philosophical issues due to embryonic stem cell research.”

This is true, but the great thing about the SCI is that they use adult stem cells, which come from the patients themselves. So, unless you have a problem with somebody having the rights to their own body, there shouldn’t be controversy. The clinic extracts healthy cells from the body. They have the most stringent regulations in the world, so each cell is examined at least twice to make sure it is healthy. Once they clean the cells, they re-inject the healthy cells into the damaged area (in my case, the brain).  Since they use the patient’s own cells, there is no DNA rejection and the cells will regenerate. Not only that, but there are little to no side effects besides bruising that will go away within 24 hours.

The price of the treatment varies depending on the severity of the disability; it is different with every case. But the amazing thing about it is a patient can hold fundraisers to help raise money for treatment if they can’t pay for it on their own. The amount of time one spends in the clinic varies on the disability, but for Cerebral Palsy, it takes approximately five days, and the patient can come back for more treatments if they feel it’s necessary.

We have come so far with medical advances. The research and trials being done at the SCI is incredible, and they have a huge success rate. It could not only help me, but so many others around the world. For example, this treatment has taken a bedridden individual with multiple sclerosis and helped him to walk around normally without any discomfort. Furthermore, this treatment has also taken a Cerebral Palsy patient who could not walk to take her first independent step after treatment.

I feel the only reason this hasn’t spread to the U.S. already is because of the FDA. It takes many years of study for the FDA to approve stem cell treatments in the United States. So far, they have only been able to authorize cord blood stem cells for positive signs of blood cancers and immune system disorders. This approval just came into fruition in November 2011. The FDA encourages patients seeking stem cell treatment in different countries to be cautious due to lack of regulations. But it is my hope that future stem cell approvals are forthcoming in the U.S.  It is because of this treatment in Panama, though, that I feel I may have found the answer I was looking for.

I have been limited my entire life with things I can do, and it’s hard to imagine what that’s like until you live it. When I was born, I was fighting to live. Then, I was fighting to walk on my own and now I’m fighting for a cure.

Ava Roesslein is a junior journalism major and a staff writer for The Ampersand at Webster University.

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