Thanks to a progressive stem cell treatment being developed by University researchers, life may soon change for individuals suffering from certain neurological diseases. And in a new political climate of support for stem cell research, the proposed treatment has received FDA approval for a human clinical trial. This is a significant victory for supporters of stem cell research and patients suffering from neurological diseases, but it’s also good news for the University. And as governmental support for stem cell research continues to improve, the University should strive to maintain its place at the forefront of such important scientific advancements.
The proposed clinical trial, which received FDA approval on Sept. 18, is the first of its kind for the disease it is designed to treat and will be led by University researcher Dr. Eva Feldman. The treatment consists of injecting stem cells into the spinal cords of patients suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a neurological disease that causes a slow loss of voluntary muscle function. Currently, the only treatments for ALS are medications that slow the effects of the disease, but researchers hope that stem cell injections will stop and possibly reverse the damage.
Approval of Feldman’s treatment would not have been possible if not for drastic legislative changes in the past year. Michigan’s Proposal 2 ballot initiative passed in the election last November, easing restrictions on stem cell research. And earlier this year, President Barack Obama reversed an executive order put into effect by President George W. Bush, which had limited federal funding to stem cell research. These fortunate developments have been instrumental in allowing the advancement of promising research with the potential to save millions of lives.
Diseases like ALS are debilitating and painful, not only for those who suffer from the disease but also for the people who care for them. According to the ALS Association, there are as many as 30,000 people in the United States with ALS. And they could benefit from new stem cell treatments. Other diseases like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis may also be treatable using stem cell therapies. The potential of stem cell research to alleviate and cure these diseases is more than sufficient reason for the government to condone and promote its study by leading scientists and researchers across the country.
But opportunities for stem cell research are especially good for the University. The fact that University researchers are making cutting edge developments in the field brings the University — and by extension, the state — needed publicity. Leading the way on stem cells attracts bright and talented minds to settle in Michigan. And bringing these professionals here will undoubtedly contribute to the revitalization of the state’s economy through an increased focus on science-based jobs. It’s important that studies like Feldman’s are funded and encouraged so that the University can remain the focal point of stem cell research.
But aside from the economic benefits for Michigan, it’s important to remember that Feldman’s work has the potential to radically change the lives of those who suffer from disease for the better. Governmental policy should continue to reflect the enormous benefits that further stem cell research will bring.