I Dont Know If Stem Cells Really Can Cure My Parkinsons. but Dont I Deserve the Chance to Find Out?

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Byline: Shay Healy

THE first stem cell treatment in Ireland took place last in Co.

Cork last year.

A regular GP, prompted by the plight of his sister, who has MS, put his career on the line to implant stem cells in her and a number of other people. Inevitably, the Irish Medical Council stepped in and the treatments were halted.

As someone who suffers from Parkinsons Disease, I am ever alert to any kind of research that might find a cure for this insidious condition, so when I read that University College Cork was keeping Cork at the forefront of the debate on the use of stem cells for research I said to myself, good on you UCC.

Even before the debate had begun, the right-to-lifers and Catholic protesters were lining up to shoot down the proposed research in UCC. Using emotive, hysterical language and talking about destroying embryos, they conjure up images of doctors willy-nilly pulling embryos from a production line, milking the cells and discarding whats left in some kind of medical waste bin.

There is still no formal legislation banning the use of stem cells in Ireland but by the same token, the Medical Council has strict guidelines on the use of human embryos for harvesting cells. A 2005 report from a Government-appointed Commission on Assisted Reproduction, gave the go-ahead for stem cell research, as long as the embryos have been specifically donated for research.

Why doesnt a Government report satisfy these protesters? Their reluctance to accept the report smacks of the old-fashioned oppression which stunted our growth as a nation for so many years. And isnt it ironic that in these days of disastrous negativity and recession, one area of positive growth in modern Ireland is in the area of clinical research.

Besides, the use of umbilical stem cells now provides a controversy-free alternative. When the cord is clamped after childbirth, stem cells from the snipped piece of umbilical cord can be harvested, cryogenically frozen and stored for use in the event of the child, or siblings or even the parents, being stricken with a disease that might be cured by the reimplantation of the frozen stem cells.

Most Irish maternity hospitals are happy to facilitate the parents in harvesting the stem cells. Already this year, more than 100 women have availed of the service, which costs E1,500 and while it is still a medical long-shot, nobody gets hurt in the process and it may well pay off some day soon.

Incidentally, I would cate-gorise myself as an agnostic sceptic and I turned down the opportunity to film the procedure in Cork because I am not satisfied that stem cell implantation is anything more than the spin of a roulette wheel. So far, there have been no miracle cures, in Cork or anywhere else, using stem cell implantation, so it is not yet proven. It is also sad to say that there are charlatans all over the world preying on unfortunate, desperate, people, charging them as much as E20,000 per session.

I would not include the Cork GP in the band of chancers. He is a good man, who was honestly trying to help his sister, but when I tried to penetrate into the heart of the Dutch company which supplied the stem cells used in Cork, it proved impossible to find a name or a number that might provide a few answers on the success rate of their treatments, or how they could justify charging such huge sums of money. …