Friday, November 13, 2009

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Information

I realized that most of you probably do not know what human embryonic stem cell therapy is and why it is so exciting. I have been doing research, asking the doctors here at NuTech to clarify details, and interviewing patients for this information. I am not a doctor. I am a mom interested in how the embryonic stem cells can help my child heal. Therefore, let me share what little I know.

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC)
All human bodies have the ability to repair and regenerate to varying degrees in various organs. During a person's lifetime, the body is able to maintain a balance and as age advances, the ability becomes diminished. If the body become diseased, either by its own malfunctions or by viruses or bacteria (which are often the trigger for an autoimmune disease) it leads to depletion of the body's cells and often incapacitating, incurable or terminal conditions. For many of these disorders medication is given to control and / or cure the symptoms, but there is no true solution. Human embryonic stem cells (HESC) can supplement the missing or dwindling cells and replenish or regenerate the malfunctioning parts of the body.

What are stem cells and why are they important?
Stem cells are considered the body's master cells. They can differentiate into any number of types of specialized cells such as muscles, nerves, organs, bone, blood and so on. These properties make stem cells different from the body's other mature cells which are committed to their assigned function. For example, a skin cell can only divide and generate new skin cells. So why are embryonic stem cells so amazing? They are able to become any type of cell because of their "plasticity" (the ability to change permanently, as opposed to elasticity, meaning to change temporarily and then revert back). This makes embryonic stem cells essential for renewing and repairing the body. They are formed at conception and specialize later to become various tissues of the growing embryo. After birth, the body retains the stem cell reserves in various bones and organs. These reserves are limited and when depleted, the body begins to succumb to disease, disorders, and aging. Stem cell therapy offers the potential to stop the cascading progression and to replenish the reserves and fight a wide variety of injuries, diseases and disorders.

What makes Dr. Geeta Shroff, an infertility expert, at NuTech Mediworld in India different?
There are stem cell options around the world. To date, NuTech Mediworld is one of the best known stem cell centers. Dr. Shroff, a physician trained in in vitro fertilization, has been using HESCs to treat incurable or terminal diseases. Dr. Shroff's process is different than any other options because she has developed the technology to create, by the use of a single donated embryo, an infinite number of stem cell lines eliminating the ethical issue of destroying embryos for research and treatment. However, this one special embryo life now is powerful because it has given life to hundreds of individuals with incurable and terminal conditions. Dr. Shroff has been able to grow embryonic stem cells without the use of any animal products. And she has the ability to freeze and thaw her cells to allow storage and transport.

During her laboratory research and with full consent, she used a surplus embryo from an IV donor who underwent a barrage of tests including a complex medical and genetic history. Theoretically, this one embryo can treat the entire human population. Every day we hear about other treatments around the globe using stem cells (fetal, umbilical cord, adult, rats, mice, etc.), but Dr. Shroff has pure human embryonic stem cell lines that do not show any immune rejection in the body. Embryonic stem cells do not have any antigenic proteins on their surface and thus do not require immunosuppressant drugs. This unique cell culture methodology makes the HESCs universally acceptable without the need for cross-matching, irrespective of gender, age, or race. To date, there have been no side effects reported in over nine years of therapeutic usage. This therapy is being used to clinically treat patients suffering from various conditions all presently categorized as incurable or terminal: spinal cord injury, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cardiac conditions, and many more.

What is the difference between India offering HESCs and other countries?
Dr. Shroff's type of work is governed by the Indian Council of Medical Research, which sets forth guidelines for stem cell research. Under Indian law doctors may treat a condition or disorder that is considered incurable or terminal with novel procedures. Dr. Shroff is not bound by many of restrictive regulations and policies that are present in other countries (it is illegal in the US), compelling patients to travel from all over the world for this revolutionary treatment. During our treatment we have met people from Egypt, Iceland, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and the United States.

What makes HESCs better than other stem cells?
When a sperm fertilizes an egg, it becomes what is known as a zygote. Many scientists view the zygote as the ultimate stem cell because it can develop not only into an embryo, but also the surrounding tissues, such as the placenta. Because the zygote has the highest degree of plasticity (ability to permanently change), it is referred to as a "totipotent" stem cell. Totipotent stem cells have the potential to generate all the cells and tissues that make up an embryo and that support its development in utero. The zygote begins to divide thirty hours after an egg fertilized and by the fifth to seventh day, the cells form a blastocyst. Dr. Shroff harvest them at 24 to 48 hours - pre-blastocyst.

The embryonic stem cell is defined by its origin - that is from one of the earliest stages of the development of the embryo, called the blastocyst. Specifically, embryonic stem cells are derived from the inner cell mass within the blastocyst at a stage before it would implant in the uterine wall. The size of this blastocyst (embryo) is about 0.1-mm across or smaller than the size of a period at the end of this sentence. These stem cells are somewhat less plastic and more specialized than a zygote. Those on the outer surface of the blastocyst develop into the placenta and other tissues that surround the fetus, while those inside - referred to as embryonic stem cells - become the cells of all the fetal organs and tissues.

The embryonic stem cell can self-replicate and is pluripotent. Pluripotent embryonic stem cells originate as inner mass cells within a blastocyst. Such stem cells can differentiate into any of the more than 200 types of cells in the human body. Most scientists use the term pluripotent to describe stem cells that can give rise to cells derived from all three embryonic germ layers - ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. All of the many different kinds of specialized cells that make up the body are derived from one of these three embryonic germ layers.

What is HESC therapy?
HESC therapy is given to patients who commit to either a four, eight or twelve week period depending on their health condition. During this time the patient is given stem cell injections into specific targeted areas: intravenous, intramuscular, and spinal procedures. Dr. Shroff starts with a low dose of HESCs at the beginning of therapy and increases the dosage over time per the patient's needs. Along with receiving HESCs, the patient receives intense physiotherapy, occupational therapy (based on the patient's needs), and participates in yoga. The combination of these helps stimulate the HESCs to go to locations where the body needs them most. Additionally, patients need to realize the importance of having a positive attitude, believing they can make their body create the changes needed, having a healthy commitment to treating their mind, body and spirit like a treasure to heal their body, working hard at making an effort to exercise, eat nutritiously, think positive, and nurture their stem cells. Progress happens over time and not immediately.

Making the Tough Decisions

One of the best and riskiest decisions of my entire life was to take Monica to India. It was a difficult one because not only does it impact my family financially (it is all cash, very expensive, and we need to return several times over the next year or two), but we had to leave behind Kevin a senior in high school (who wants his sister to get better, but the trade off is that his mom and sister left home for a couple of months) and Lance - luckily Mitch started his freshman year of college two days before we left so he is distracted and consumed by his new lifestyle.

Personally, I believe that I needed to try absolutely everything possible in the world available - regardless of costs - to get my girl well. Money is just money. I learned a very valuable lesson growing up that money cannot buy you health or happiness. Sure it can make life more comfortable or give you options, but it cannot buy the most important things you need - hope, love, courage, health, happiness, etc. Money makes it possible to try everything, but if you don't find the right people or places it doesn't matter how much you have.

I have known several people who have died because they could not find a place to go to heal. They could not find a place that could stop the progression of their disease. They could not find the most brilliant people, medical equipment and medicine available to mankind at that moment when they needed it. They could not find answers because the medical community didn't have answers. I now know we know so very little about how our bodies work. Especially if you have a condition that is now called "Monica's Disease." No doctor so far around the world has been able to name her disease or recognize her symptoms. It is truly a miracle that our bodies are able to work as well as they do. Be grateful that yours does.

I have learned an incredible amount about stem cells and have witnessed the miracles they can create in people's bodies clinically. Stem cells are going to be the new wave of medicine in the future. They will be available in our pharmacies and used as a first line of treatment for injuries or diseases or disorders I believe in my lifetime. Monica has become a pioneer being treated with human embryonic stem cells. She is the youngest person in the world to receive human embryonic stem cell treatment from NuTech Mediworld - one of the world's leading stem cell centers - outside of India. NuTech Mediworld does have an outpatient clinic for children.

We did not have much hope before we arrived. In fact - I believe she would have died had we not come. I had to make the tough decisions and be willing to try something risky and experimental. Monica had to be willing, brave and have the courage, determination and dedication to try everything possible to heal. Well, it has been one of the best decisions ever. Monica continues to get better and better and we now believe it is possible for her to heal.

I cannot begin to express my gratitude to all of you for your continued love and support throughout this journey.