Stem Cell Discoveries, Laws and Debate

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Madison: UW stem cell researchers have announced a major breakthrough in the treatment of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS causes motor neurons to die and slowly paralyzes its victims.

Researchers have implanted stem cells into rats with ALS, stopping the progression of the disease.

UW Doctoral Research and Co-Author Sandra Klein say the implications for humans are tremendous. "For sure it would halt the disease at where you were and you would start to regain some of your function."

Across town lawmakers were talking about a different kind of stem cell. Adult stem cells taken from the blood found in umbilical cords have been shown to help patients suffering from leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia. But the majority of umbilical cords are thrown away as medical waste.

A proposed bill would require doctors to inform mothers about the benefits of donating the umbilical cord. "We can increase the supply of umbilical cord blood by over 90% just by passing this piece of legislation and letting the mothers know about it," says Rep. Steve Wieckert (R-Appleton).

Pro–Life Wisconsin supports the bill. They want to reduce funding for embryonic stem cell research by promoting adult stem cell research.

"We know that it's a rich source of stem cells, ethically uncontroversial, proven to work. And that's what we need to be focusing our time, energy and talent on," says Legislative Director Matt Sande.

UW stem cell researcher Dr. Clive Svendsen uses embryonic stem cells to grow neural cells like in the ALS study. He says umbilical blood stem cells won't help people with ALS or Parkinsons.

"If one is dogmatic and says we should only study adult stem cells from the cord or the cord blood, I think that's missing out on huge possibilities and avenues from different types of stem cells which right now have much more potential for going into patients."

Dr. Svendsen says the best route is to study all stem cells. "We can't afford right now to block any of these avenues and we should be working on all of them at once."

The umbilical cord blood donation bill is expected to pass and move on to a vote in the full senate.

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