Britain’s role in the stem cell revolution

The Telegraph | Opinion

We are only just beginning to understand the extraordinary benefits that stem cell technology may bring to medicine and the improvement of human health. But it seems clear that organ transplant will be one field that will be revolutionised by this development – and sooner, we hope, rather than later.

True, since the first astonishing breakthrough in heart transplantation made by Christiaan Barnard in 1967, the procedure has undergone many improvements, and life expectancy for patients has grown significantly. But, as with passenger aviation (which also experienced a radical leap forward in the late Sixties with the launch of the Jumbo 747), the fundamentals have remained much the same since. Recipients need to take drugs to prevent their immune systems rejecting the donated organ.

Most crucially, however, they need to find that organ in the first place. In Britain today, more than half a million patients are living with debilitating heart failure. The lack of donor organs is acute.

The results of the University of Utah’s stem cell treatment, on which we report, are extremely exciting, though it should be underlined that they relate only to a trial. Injecting stem cells, which have the capacity to develop into any specialised cell in the body, led to dramatically improved survival rates. Because these cells are harvested from patients themselves, there is no problem with rejection; because the stem cells help heart function, patients are better able to survive without a transplant. Continue reading
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