In October last year, US scientists said they injected a drug derived from human embryonic stem cells into the spine of a patient who became partially paralyzed after he figured from a vehicular accident.
The treatment is the first of its kind that was performed in the country and the name of the patient was made a top secret.
There has been much talk all over social media that the details of the first human "experiment" for the highly-debated treatment will be revealed.
Meet Timothy J. Atchison, a 21-year-old nursing student from Chatom, Alabama. He is the first patient who had consented to receive stem cell therapy in the US.
"I was the first patient. I’m doing well," said T.J., his nickname, in a phone interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday evening.
He was studying at the University of South Alabama College of Nursing when he met a car accident on 25 September, which, coincidentally, was the date of birth of Christopher "Superman" Reeve, the Hollywood actor who became quadriplegic due to an injury to his spinal cord.
After receiving emergency care at a medical center, Atchinson was transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta where he received the treatment.
"I feel really good about everything. I’ve got a positive attitude. I’m trying to live life to the fullest right now," he said.
He also said that it is too early to see results. He now drives a special kind of car where he need not use his legs. He plans to go back to his studies soon.
Stem cell therapy is an interventional method of treatment that introduces human embryonic cells that were not used from in-vitro fertilization procedures. It has the potential to replace the damaged cells and generate new cells in damaged areas of the body.
No doubt this is a hotly-debated topic because of concerns for ethical issues, which the proponents claim human embryos are killed during the procedure. There is also the question whether the treatment will give rise to cancers, among other things.
I made a short research which showed that stem cell therapy is attracting thousands of patients to go to Brazil, China, India and Russia where the intervention is available. The cost of the treatment is $30,000 in Beijing.
Another patient is Kara Anderson, 9 years old, who was diagnosed by US doctors to have cerebral palsy and was told that most likely she will be unable to walk.
Her hopeful parents brought her to Wu Stem Cells Medical Center in Beijing for the therapy. Several photographs of Kara are seen here in a Washington Post collection and she seems to be able to use her lower extremities after the treatment. A great improvement, I must say.
Author's note: It is not surprising that there will be battles along the way before stem cell therapy will gain acceptance. In the mean time, if the treatment will give hope to highly-selected patients who meet the criteria of sustaining paralysis from the chest down within the previous 14 days, why not give the new treatment a chance? The details of the sensitive issues need to be settled by authorities, however. But the basic thing is that if patients were fully informed of the advantages and disadvantages of any treatment modalities, then they have the basic rights to receive such therapies for their well-being.
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Details of this report here.