This is a story of hope and promise.
To me, it sounds like science fiction.
But it is not. You can hear and see for yourselves at a presentation Oct. 5 at the Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head Island called “Adult Stem Cells: Medicine of the Future.”
Two world-famous doctors and researchers — Dr. Keith March of Indiana University and Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. — will tell of the medical hope and promise being engineered in laboratories today by hundreds of our brightest minds.
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It’s about regenerative medicine, in which someday our bodies will be able to heal themselves by generating new tissue or even organs.
A portion of what Atala said in a TED Talk that has now been viewed online 1.7 million times helps explain why it sounds like fiction.
“This is actually one of the strategies,” he said, with images on a screen over his head. “We use a printer. And instead of using ink, we use — you just saw an inkjet cartridge — we just use cells. This is actually your typical desktop printer. It’s actually printing this two-chamber heart, one layer at a time. You see the heart coming out there. It takes about 40 minutes to print, and about four to six hours later you see the muscle cells contract. (Applause) This technology was developed by Tao Ju, who worked at our institute. And this is actually still, of course, experimental, not for use in patients.”
And that was in 2009, virtually light years ago.
And therein lies the hope.
The presentation on Hilton Head should probably take place in London or New York. But it is here because of mothers with hope.
Several mothers with children whose lives would be so much better if some of their cells could be used to regenerate tissue and organs.
Hilary Drammis and Kelly Ruhlin of Wexford started it. They wanted more people to know and support what their “hero” doctors were up to. Drammis told a Wexford publication that her severely autistic 26-year-old son has benefited from treatments of mesenchymal stem cells. Ruhlin has donated a kidney to one of her sons.
Seminar committee member Sally Cardamone of Hilton Head saw her active teenage daughter experience total kidney failure because the artery that connects to the kidney had not normally developed. It took a long time to get that figured out, and surgeons David Kastl on Hilton Head and Richard Cambria at Mass General Hospital in Boston helped save Helen Cardamone, who is now 23 and a May graduate at Wake Forest University.
“While we were at Mass General, they invited us to go into the research lab and they showed us how a fat cell — a stem cell —was engineered into a heart cell,” Sally Cardamone said. “We looked under the microscope and it was beating. We saw that eventually they will be able to wrap your cells around a tube (called “scaffolding” and made of a material that will disintegrate after is use is finished) that will grow into a natural artery. It gave us an idea of what amazing things they are doing and the millions of people — our grandchildren and great-grandchildren — who could benefit.”
For all ages
But Elizabeth Hancock, whose Friends of Children of Hilton Head nonprofit is organizing the event, said the presentation next week is not about local children.
“Many of the calls I’ve gotten about the seminar are from older people with questions about how regenerative medicine could help with knee replacements, or hip replacements, or Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s diseases,” she said.
She has a child who is persevering through diabetes. That experience is why she has the nonprofit foundation to help educate others, and why she is on the MUSC Children’s Hospital advisory board.
But her hope is that people whose lives have not been turned upside down by disease in the family will come and learn about the game-changing medicine that sounds like fiction but isn’t.
In a letter earlier this year to supporters, Dr. March touched on the broad reach of regenerative medicine.
“We are spearheading clinical trials using adipose (fat-derived) stem cells to treat leg pain and arthritis,” he wrote. “Other trails for treatments addressing emphysema and stroke have been designed. Moving ahead, we’re planning to test these cells and their products to treat diseases ranging from Parkinson’s disease and ALS to diabetes. Based on vascular research, novel antibody-based therapies have been designed to treat lung diseases, and are even being tested for their effects in infectious diseases such as AIDS and influenza.”
Atala, who heads the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in addition to being a professor and surgeon, has received more than 250 patents. More than a dozen applications and technologies developed in his 450-person laboratory have been used clinically.
Smithsonian Magazine called his work “one of 40 things to know about the next 40 years,” and Time magazine has twice credited him with one of the top five medical breakthroughs of the year.
Still, the majority of the research at the Wake Forest laboratory is still in experimental research stages and is not ready for human implantation.
That’s why it is a story of great hope and promise.
If you go
“Adult Stem Cells: Medicine of the Future”
▪ Schedule: Oct. 5 at the Sonesta Resort in Shipyard Plantation, Hilton Head Island.
5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Open bar and hors d’oeuvres.
6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Lecture with Q&A.
▪ Tickets: Reserve your seat in advance with a $75 check payable to a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization: The Friends of the Children of Hilton Head, 37 Spanish Pointe Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926.
▪ Information: For more information, contact Elizabeth Hancock: firstname.lastname@example.org; 843-301-9090.
▪ Host committee: Sam Boyd, Sally Cardamone, Charlie Clark, Adelaide Corkern, Hilary Drammis, Elizabeth Hancock, Susan Ochsner, Terri Rice, Kelly Ruhlin.