Thursday, August 18, 2005

Medical breakthrough? Political hot potato

This is amazing: A team of Swiss doctors used a single sample of skin taken from an aborted fetus to help children with second- and third-degree burns. The fetal cells grow so well that one piece of fetal tissue can be used to generate enough skin bandages to treat thousands of burn patients.

The doctors, led by Dr. Patrick Hohlfeld, thought the fetal skin might allow improvements in skin grafting, but they found that the tissue instead served as a "biological bandage that stimulated healing." The children's burned skin healed to the point that it appeared unscarred and was basically as supple as normal skin. And what do you think of when you hear about a kid with severe burns? Extended hospitalization, agonizingly painful procedures? The children in this study were treated on an outpatient basis, with no need for anesthesia, and their burns healed within about two weeks.

While burned children have a greater need for this treatment than adults—scarred and burned skin doesn't grow as a child grows, requiring multiple operations over time—imagine how this "biological bandage" could revolutionize treatment of burns and other serious skin wounds.

Now, here in America, many people work themselves into a tizzy about using cell lines from embryonic stem cells that have existed only in a laboratory, and equate it to baby-killing. I reckon they'd throw a huge fit about researchers developing treatments from fetal tissue. But I think of the children who get terrible burns and suffer so intensely during treatment. The children who must live the rest of their lives with dreadful scars that limit their dexterity or ability to smile. The children who face more rounds of painful surgery as their bodies grow but their skin does not. The children whose scars broadcast their medical history to everyone they encounter, and garner them looks of pity from strangers. Imagine the promise restored in a burned child's life when the "biological bandage" approach heals her damaged skin.

My prediction: This line of research will eventually lead to a Nobel prize in medicine for the pioneers in Switzerland, and burn victims around the world will be able to quickly shed the label of "burn victim" as their skin heals. But in America, people with burns will live their lives with disfiguring scars, as Americans are sentenced to live with third-rate burn care because too many politicians thought they'd get voted out if they didn't ban the use of fetal tissue in research and treatment.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is WONDERFUL to learn. I hope the responsible people for thinking to try this DO win a Nobel Prize!

the nut said...

I love this new "invention." I myself have no problems using fetal cells as long as those involved aren't intending on playing god - and you know there will be those few to ruin it for the rest of the good ones out there.

If creating new technologies and cures from fetal cells will mean less people suffering, esp children, how could one deny that it is indeed helpful?

mdgattuso said...
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