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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Great Stem Cell Caper - by Richard Cohen (an MS patient)

No.  That is not a corkscrew uncorking an expensive bottle of wine.  It is a medical device being screwed into my breastbone, creating a path for a hematologist, or blood doctor, to harvest bone marrow.  We videotaped the procedure because most of us, including me,  know little about the process of stem cell therapy.  But I am learning fast.
It all started in Rome, at the Vatican of all places.   Meredith and I participated in an adult stem cell conference.  I spoke and listened and learned, realizing cell therapy is not merely a future tense therapy.  The more I understood, the more I wanted in.  Cell therapy is the future. of medicine.
I am at the start of a new FDA approved, Phase One clinical trial for stem cell therapy for MS.  The sun has come out.  I am going to chronicle my stem cell journey on this blog, using original video and the written word.  For most of us, stem cell therapy is a mystery.
Stem cells are large, undifferentiated cells, meaning they are blank, ready to become whatever necessary to heal the body.  Stem cells can replicate any of the 210 cell types in the human body to supplement whatever function the other cells perform.  The stem cells here  will be autologous, meaning my own.  That lowers the risk considerably..
Bone marrow contains a rich trove of stem cells.  Marrow was extracted from my sternum in late August, in a procedure known as a bone marrow aspiration.  Meredith and a son Gabe videotaped the event for this blog.  The procedure looks more hideous than it is. The video is rated PG13.
The stem cells will be mysteriously processed for three months,  then infused into my spinal fluid.  They will become neural stem cells, cells of the central nervous system.  The cells will travel through the spinal fluid to my brain stem, where my lesions are.  In theory, the injured portion of my spinal column  will regain some function.  This has not been done much.  There are no guarantees.  I will believe anything when I see it.
My neurologist, Dr. Saud Sadiq, is a pioneer, confident but cautious.  He agrees with me that we both are explorers.  I like that.  It beats meandering down the beaten path.  People with threatening diseases cannot afford to be risk averse.  Inaction means simply giving in.   I take nothing for granted but am  guardedly hopeful.  Please stay tuned.


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