Will Stem Cell Treatment Give Us “Super Humans”?

Scientists have been making significant headway recently by studying a variety of anti-aging targets.  What they are discovering ranges – from a protein that can restore hair and improve fitness in old mice, to how fecal transplants increase the lifespan of some fish.  But it’s stem cell transplantation that is offering some of the most exciting anti-aging research outcomes.  Before I go any further, I’d like to talk about why someone wouldn’t want to age?  I mean, I get wanting to look younger.  Personally, I get told (almost daily) how young I look, so this one might be lost on me a bit.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t always want to look young.  But when it comes to anti-aging, are we talking about looks or slowing down the aging process altogether?

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a particular type of adult stem cell that seems to be generating a great deal of interest in the world of science.  MSCs are currently being trialed as a treatment for no less than a dozen different types of pathological conditions from cancer to heart disease.  Which is definitely something I can get behind.  This new MSC treatment is targeted at reducing the effects of frailty on senior citizens.  Which makes it the first anti-aging stem cell treatment directed specifically at the problem of age-associated frailty to move closer to a final FDA approval stage.

The treatment derives human mesenchymal stem cells from an adult donor bone marrow and in these clinical trials involves a single infusion in patients with an average age of 76. Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 human trials have demonstrated the treatment to have no adverse health effects. Although the two human trials were ostensibly designed to just demonstrate safety they do offer remarkable results in efficacy as well, paving the way for larger, Phase 3 clinical trials.

One of the scientists working on the project, Joshua M. Hare, Director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, had this to say about the trials:

“With the aging of the population, stem cells hold great promise to treat aging-related disability and frailty, improving physical capacity and quality of life. There is no FDA approved treatment for aging frailty and an enormous unmet need that will only increase with the changing demographics.”

To me, this feels a bit like science fiction.  Which is likely the way a lot of our scientific discoveries are going to go I think.  I am not trying to be disparaging when it comes to this study, as it sounds promising.  But it feels like we are starting to genetically modify humans.  In this case, it’s being done to improve the quality of life for senior citizens, and that is something I can support.  But where does this end?  At what point does this become an issue around anti-aging?  I guess my concern is where we draw the line and if we are attempting to create something “super” about humans.  I am not trying to draw an analogy to comic book heroes, but I think this is worth noting.

By doing this, scientists are essentially changing the composition of our bodies.  Taking what isn’t working and filling it with something that does.  Maybe one can compare this to taking a pill to help reduce inflammation or pain.  But I think the fact that stem cells are being used shifts this a bit and make it a bigger deal.  Specifically, because it has bigger consequences and outcomes.  Like with anything I write about, I am interested to see where this goes.  If simply used as treatment so that seniors have a higher quality of life, I can get behind this.

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