Ignoring science has been the trend for the past 5 years, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been progressing.


Today Burt has treated 170 patients with stem cells, and increasingly, others are following his lead. There are now more than 1,000 stem-cell therapies in early human trials around the world. The vast majority use cells from patients’ own bone marrow, but doctors are also using cells from healthy adults, and last month saw the first patient treated with embryonic cells, which have triggered much debate in the United States. After years of being thought of as science fictionâ€â€?the domain of animal labs and the distant futureâ€â€?stem-cell therapies are becoming a scientific fact.

Burt alone has now treated patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other immune disorders. He’s just written up the results of a stem-cell trial for type 1 diabetes. Three years after treatment, some patients now have normal blood sugar and don’t take insulin. Burt also plans trials for two diseases in which “nothing else really seems to work”: Lou Gehrig’s disease and a rare type of autism involving the immune system. He will treat his first autism patient in January.

And that’s just the start for this seemingly revolutionary therapy…

Doctors with private funding have quietly been experimenting with cells grown from fetal material. Geron, a California biotech company, has used the technique to prevent heart failure in mice; it will petition the FDA for a human trial next year. Before that, the company hopes to start the first major American trial of embryo-derived stem cells as a treatment for spinal-cord injuries. By the time that trial starts, docs will also have results from the only use of embryonic stem cells in humans thus far. In November, doctors in Oregon injected them into a child with a rare, fatal neurodegenerative disorder called Batten disease. That’s only one patientâ€â€?but if those stem cells cure the disease and multiply, their uses are sure to as well.

Are we on the cusp of something amazing?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

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