Former President and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was suffering from a mineral deficiency in her bones arising from two corrective surgeries last September, wanted to seek alternative stem cell therapy abroad.

However, she was barred from leaving the country last November after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima refused to honor the temporary restraining order issued by the high court on the inclusion of Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo in the immigration bureau’s watch list.

In the wake of Arroyo’s supposed plan to try the radical technology at stem cell centers abroad to cure what her doctors here described as a rare bone disease, a province mate and a colleague of the former President filed a bill to put up a stem cell center in the country.

Pampanga Rep. Carmelo F. Lazatin, a member of the minority bloc in Congress, has filed House Bill No. 5287 mandating the establishment of a research facility to explore the benefits of stem cell technology as a potential cure for incurable diseases.

Blank cells

Stem cells, the foundation of every organ, tissue and cell within the human body, are like blank cells that do not yet have a specific physiological function, according to Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI).

But when proper conditions in the body or in the laboratory occur, stem cells develop into specialized tissues and organs, HSCI explains in its website, adding that there are two sources of stem cells used in research: the adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells.

Adult stem cells are found in differentiated tissues and organs throughout the body while embryonic stem cells are obtained from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, the ball of cells formed when the fertilized egg or zygote divides and forms two cells, then again to form four and so on, HSCI said.

In 2008, the Vatican issued a sweeping document on bioethical issues titled “Dignitas Personae” or “The Dignity of the Person,” taking into account recent developments in biomedical technology and reinforcing the Church’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, human cloning and genetic testing on embryos before implantation.

 

Vatican’s opposition

The Vatican said these techniques violate the principles that every human life—even an embryo—is sacred, and that babies should be conceived only through intercourse by a married couple.

Despite the Vatican’s opposition, US President Barack Obama in 2009 lifted an eight-year restriction on scientific research involving human embryonic stem cells.

“For the past eight years, the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to fund and conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been limited by presidential actions,” an executive order released by the White House in March 2009 stated.

“The purpose of this order is to remove these limitations on scientific inquiry, to expand NIH support for the exploration of human stem cell research, and in so doing to enhance the contribution of America’s scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of humankind,” it added.

 

Stem cell in PH

In the Philippines, The Medical City and St. Luke’s Medical Center, both premier private hospitals, as well as the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) and Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP), both government institutions, have been pushing for stem cell technology.

Medical City offers dendritic stem cell therapy as an immune system-boosting procedure for cancer patients, stem cell therapy for heart ailments and spine injury. St. Luke’s uses stem cells to repair injured eyes.

The NKTI and LCP have acquired high-tech machines that are a dream-come-true for Filipino molecular biologists. Lung cancer and tuberculosis patients could benefit from procedures using stem cells.

At the same time, stem cells have been used in anti-aging skin care here and abroad.

Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist of a foundation dedicated to longevity research, said there’s a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what he called a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so.

In an interview last year, De Grey said he sees a time when people will go to their doctors for regular “maintenance,” which by then will include gene therapies, stem cell therapies, immune stimulation and a range of other advanced medical techniques to keep them in good shape.

Advance in longevity

De Grey, who received his doctorate from Cambridge University, was reluctant to make firm predictions about how long people will be able to live in the future, but he said that with each major advance in longevity, scientists will buy more time to make yet more scientific progress.

In his view, this means that the first person who will live to be 1,000 is likely to be born less than 20 years after the first person to reach 150.

Recently, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital said they have extracted stem cells from human ovaries and made them generate egg cells. The development, if confirmed, might provide a new source of eggs for treating infertility, though scientists said it is far too early to tell if the work holds such promise.

Scientists have also reported last January that two legally blind women appeared to gain some vision after receiving an experimental treatment using embryonic stem cells.

Sources: Inquirer Archives, www.hsci.harvard.edu, www.whitehouse.gov

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