The promise and hazards of stem cell research

Federal funding blocked mainly over opposition to use of blastocysts

PORTSMOUTH Dr. Amy Sievers, an oncologist at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, does stem cell transplants with great success for her patients and is a firm advocate for stem cell research.

Sievers is allowed to do stem cell blood transplants because she does not use the source of controversy, embryonic stem cells. Instead, she can use stem cells from bone marrow, where blood is made. The cells can become new blood for transfusion into patients with blood-related cancers like leukemia.

"When we get past the chemo and radiation, the hope is we can replace blood and give the patient healthy blood and a chance to build a good immune system," Sievers said.

Parents saving cord blood when they give birth is an option, but Dr. Alexandra Bonesho of Core Physicians in Epping said it is very costly for the patient, is not covered by insurance and is not something pediatricians recommend widely unless there is a reason.

"It's not something we use as a practical course of events," Bonesho said. "Cord blood banking is very expensive, less so if the blood stem cells are donated to the National Cord Blood Bank. In most cases, the chance that you will need it for your own child is unlikely, unless there is already a known condition in the family."

For example, if there is a history of leukemia in another child, it may be worthwhile. Bonesho said in a case like that, having the baby's own blood stem cells can be the perfect answer.

"However, chances are good that if there is a sibling, they may also be a good match if a bone marrow transplant is needed," Bonesho said. "However, transplants are not the normal course of treatment in children with leukemia."

That being said, the cord blood could eventually be used for research in the future to find a cure for diseases like sickle cell anemia, Bonesho said.

Federal funding for much stem cell research is blocked mainly over the opposition to using embryonic stem cells. The cells come from blastocysts (fertilized eggs) from an in-vitro facility. The blastocysts are excess and are usually donated by people who have already been successfully treated for fertility problems.

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The promise and hazards of stem cell research

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