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July 12, 2005 > Stem Cells: A Dream for a Cure

Stem Cells: A Dream for a Cure

(This is the first of a series of articles addressing the biology and promise of stem cell research.)

by Praveena Raman

The power of the dream
The faith in things unseen
The courage to embrace your fear
No matter where you are
To reach for your own star
To realize the power of the dream
-David Foster

On the morning of September 10, 1994, Don Reed, an English teacher at Horner Junior High School could never have imagined how the events of that day would drastically change his life and that of his family. Roman, his 19-year-old son, was playing football at Chabot College as a middle linebacker and had made eleven unassisted tackles, a forced and recovered fumble and a diving interception. In the fourth quarter, at the end of a play, he was buried under a pile of bodies. Everyone got up and walked away except Roman. The doctors told Don that Roman's neck was broken and he was paralyzed from his shoulders down with no hope of ever walking, closing his fingers or fathering a child.

Don and Roman would not accept this prognosis. With the help of Roman's then girlfriend and now wife, Terri, they found an experimental medicine Sygen manufactured in Switzerland. Along with Sygen treatment, Roman underwent intense physical therapy. Following completion of this regimen, Roman was able to use his triceps which allowed him to transfer from bed to wheelchair and drive a specially adapted van. He and Terri are also proud parents of two beautiful children. Although still suffering the agonies of paralysis, Roman works part time, coaches his son's soccer and baseball teams and studies at the University of California Berkeley.

While seeking a cure to help Roman, Don Reed found that spinal cord injury treatment and research were expensive propositions with very little funding. Together with Karen Miner, also a quadriplegic, Don founded Californians for Cure that, with the help of then Assemblyman John Dutra, sponsored the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Research Act in 1999. This act provided funds to open the Roman Reed Core Laboratory for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Research in the Reeve-Irvine Research Center located at University of California, Irvine. It also awards grants to further cutting edge SCI research.

With the help of the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund and other private and public funding sources, Dr. Hans Keirstead and his colleagues at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center have shown that human embryonic stem cell therapy developed in their laboratory has restored mobility in rats with SCI 1. "I have stood in the Roman Reed Laboratory and have held in my hands a white rat that had been paralyzed but could now walk because of human embryonic stem cell therapy," says Don Reed. "For this to happen to Roman, a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer will be needed."

Even though stem cell research breakthroughs are taking place all over the world, providing hope for numerous untreatable diseases and conditions, it is still mired in deep controversy. To understand research scientists' excitement and educate ourselves, let's explore the world of stem cells.

What are stem cells?
Stem cells are primitive cells that do not have special characteristics. They can undergo cell division and renew themselves for long periods. Under certain conditions they can be converted into cells with specialized functions like those that produce insulin in the pancreas. There are primarily two types of stem cells from animals and humans that are used in research: the embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

(End of Part I. Part II will define the types of stem cells and Part III will discuss current research)

(1). Hans S. Keirstead, Gabriel Nistor, Giovanna Bernal, Minodora Totoiu, Frank Cloutier, Kelly Sharp, Oswald Steward. "Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cell Transplants Remyelinate and Restore Locomotion after Spinal Cord Injury", J. Neurosci., May 2005; 25: 4694 - 4705.

Further Reading.

  1. Weiss, Rick "The Stem Cell Divide" National Geographic Magazine, July 2005, Pg.3-27.
  3. Reeve- Irvine Research Center -
  5. California Institute for Regenerative Medicine -
  6. International Society for Stem Cell Research.
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