A few years ago, regenerative medicine’s results would have been unheard of. Now, it’s opening up unheard-of possibilities. Is it time to put ethics to one side and embrace the new future of medicine?
A cure for paralysis?
Last week, the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago released the results of a 12 month study into the use of regenerative medicine on people with paralysing spinal cord injuries. The results were impressive to say the least. Of the six patients, all of whom were completely paralysed below the site of their injury, four regained at least two motor functions. This is more than double the historical recovery rate and the recovery rate shown in the control group. Dr Richard G Fessler, a professor in neurological surgery at Rush, summed up the sense of excitement at the result:
‘Normally with a spinal cord injury, a person will improve for a month or two, but that’s it. We are 12 months out and we are continuing to see improvements in patients who receive the treatment. That’s vastly better than anything we’ve ever seen before.’
Regenerative medicine uses tissue cells to stimulate the body’s own repair mechanisms. Cells can be injected to encourage the regeneration of previously irreparable organs. If organs cannot heal themselves, there is also the possibility of growing them outside the body using cells from the patient. This would effectively solve the problem of organ donor shortages because each patient could be their own donor.
Sadly, regenerative medicine is a controversial topic in some countries; let’s find out why.
A controversial topic
The possible applications of this technology are staggering, but many people have ethical concerns.
Regenerative medicine has traditionally relied heavily on stem cells, usually extracted from embryos that were produced for IVF but never used. This is unacceptable to many people, especially the religious right-wing in America who hold a great deal of political sway. Republican politician Ernest Istook summed up this position when he described stem cell research as ‘creating life for the sole purpose of destroying it.’ This point of view is understandable depending on your opinion of what does and doesn’t constitute human life but, as Stephen Hawking put it, ‘The fact that the cells may come from embryos is not an objection, because the embryos are going to die anyway.’ We are inclined to agree with this view. It’s a sensitive subject and needs to be handled carefully but, if we’re already using embryos for IVF, there’s no logical reason we shouldn’t extract stem cells from unused embryos.
Stem cells aside, there are also concerns about the ‘commodification’ of the human body. If regenerative medicine is taken to its logical conclusion we may start to view the human body as a set of replaceable parts. Kevin Shakesheff from the Wolfson Centre for Stem Cells says that we may end up treating the human body ‘like a classic car that has all its engine components changed to keep it running.’ This could potentially extend human life spans way beyond their current limits, creating problems of overpopulation and putting strain on public services.
This is all hypothetical though. At present we’re not talking about achieving immortality; we’re talking about improving the quality of life for people with debilitating illnesses. The Rush Centre’s paralysis results and recent breakthroughs in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s treatment all show the huge potential of regenerative medicine to fight the most serious medical conditions. Ethical considerations need to be discussed carefully but, ultimately, we owe it to ourselves to embrace regenerative medicine.
Embracing the future
We need to be optimistic about new technologies, not just in medicine but in all areas. If your company is working on innovative solutions to real world problems you may be entitled to R&D Tax Credits. Trying new things can be risky and expensive. R&D Tax Credits act as a safety net for innovation, allowing you to offset the costs against your annual tax bill. The application process can be tricky, but that’s where we will help. We have experts on hand who can guide you through the entire process and make sure you have the best possible chance of success. We can even advance you 50% of the value of your claim within 48 hours.
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Get in touch today and let’s get started.