Stem cells of youth

Public Lives By: Randy David Philippine Daily Inquirer

Recently, I listened to a friend recount his stem cell treatment at a medical spa in Europe. The treatment costs about P1 million. The clinic where it is done has lately been attracting hundreds of Filipinos in search of the modern version of the proverbial fountain of youth.

Youre fetched from the airport by a limousine, my friend said, and brought to a beautiful countryside lodge in the middle of a lush forest. Over three relaxing days, three injections of a serum taken from the fetus of a sheep are administered on the patients buttocks. In between treatments, the spas overseas guests are taken on a guided tour of nearby sights as part of the package. The physical change is supposed to be felt gradually after a week. I cant explain to you exactly how it works, he said, but I do feel good and strong. All the aches in my bones are gone, and the wrinkles on my face have receded. He did look rested, I must say. But, if I had that kind of money, I thought to myself, I would sooner buy a motorcycle.

Stem cell experimentationand the post-human future it signifieshas always fascinated me. And so I asked my no-nonsense dermatologist who has been treating me for occasional allergic flare-ups what she thought of stem cells as the new path to prolonged youth. Its definitely the newest craze in town, she confirmed. More than a dozen of her own patients have been enticing her with an all-expenses-paid European holiday just to accompany them to this famous clinic. She advises them instead to take off for a week and pamper themselves at a local spa if they have money to spend. But if they are persistent, she tells them they can get the same treatment in China or Thailand for maybe half the price.

These foreign clinics are not medical centers for stem cell therapy, she tells me, short of saying they are scams. They are really nothing but expensive spas that offer a menu of rejuvenation treatments. The cells taken from the fetuses of animals and injected into their clients bodies cannot be called stem cells, she says emphatically. They are adult cells.

Stem cells are called such because they are the cells that generate fresh tissue or blood. The human body has reserves of these stem cells, mostly found in the bone marrow. They are mobilized like an army when the body requires regeneration from injury or illness. Sometimes, when the healing, for example, of a broken bone is taking an unusually long time, a surgeon may draw stem cells from a persons bone marrow, and graft these directly onto his injured bone. These autologous stem cells (meaning, sourced from the same person) speed up the healing process. These are also used to treat some forms of cancer like leukemia. At the moment of birth, a babys umbilical cord is filled with stem cells, and these are sometimes harvested and preserved for future use to treat that babys congenital illnesses or defects.

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Stem cells of youth