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U.S. Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker   (Source: Defense Department)
U.S. Department of Defense announces AFIRM with goal of using stem cell research to treat injured soldiers

Stem cell research is one of the most promising medical treatment modalities to be discovered and utilized in modern medicine. The problem for many when it comes to research isn’t the goals of using the stem cells to cure disease, but the fact that the best stem cells come from discarded human embryos.

The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced the newly established Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) headed by the U.S. Army with participation form public universities and private institutions.  AFIRM has an operating budget for its first five years of $250 million with $80 million of the funding coming directly from the DoD. The remaining program funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as local public and private funding.

The goal of AFIRM is to harness stem cell research and technology to find new ways to use the patient’s cellular structure to reconstruct skin, muscles and tendons as well as replacing and regrowing extremities like ears, noses and fingers.

The U.S. Army surgeon general Lt. General Eric B. Schoomaker said at a news conference, “The cells that we’re talking about actually exist in our bodies today. We, even as adults, possess in our bodies small quantities of cells which have the potential, under the right kind of stimulation, to become any one of a number of different kinds of cells.”

Schoomaker points out that the human body routinely regenerates liver and bone marrow cells. Dr. Anthony Atala director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine stated at the news conference, “All the parts of your body, tissues and organs, have a natural repository of cells that are ready to replicate when an injury occurs.”

Atala goes on to say that technicians can select cells from human donors and using a series of scientific processes can then use the cells to regrow new tissue. Atala continued, “Then, you can plant [the regenerated tissue] back into the same patient, thus avoiding rejection.”

Techniques being developed by AFIRM will be used to regrow tissue to make new muscles and tendons and for the repair or replacement of extremities like fingers, noses and ears.

Stem cell research is showing promise for treating many other previously incurable diseases. In February 2008 researchers used stem cells to treat diabetes in mice.

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By FITCamaro on 4/22/2008 1:28:46 PM , Rating: 5
Anything we can do to help treat our injured soldiers should be done. Personally I have no problem utilizing stem cells for research. As far using them from discarded human embryos, if they can grow embryos to harvest the cells from in a way that it wouldn't have become a sentient human being, go for it.

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/22/2008 1:33:24 PM , Rating: 5
Except embryonic will always be far inferior to actual stem cells from your body, despite what this article claims in the first paragraph. That's a no brainer. Any foreign cells with foreign proteins can be recognized by the immune system as such leading to rejection, or worst, lupus disorder. Moreover, aberrant genetics from a source not the same as you can cause its own problems. The body is a very finely tuned machine chemically.

What they want to do here, is the smart and best way to do it. It's also an extension of research that's been going on for awhile, such as . The general rule of thumb is that if mice can do it, so can humans. There are many other animals in nature also with incredible regenerative properties, and in humans it's mostly dormant. Note, that what they are talking about in the article is different than turning human adult cells back into pluripotent stem cells, which is another avenue that's similarly powerful, though not as optimal as just using your already, aways present adult stem cells.

RE: Awesome
By FITCamaro on 4/22/2008 1:40:09 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't advocating one over the other. Just addressing my opinion of that particular issue.

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/22/2008 1:43:47 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just pointing out that there's no reason to ever use discarded embryos when we have better techniques that also avoid the pitfalls medically and ethically that embryonic stem cells have.

RE: Awesome
By NINaudio on 4/22/2008 2:33:49 PM , Rating: 5
Am I the only person who finds it odd that there is so much debate over using stem cells from embryos that are discarded ? It's ok to trash the embryos, but not ok to put parts of them to good use?

I know that some are of the opinion that adult stem cells are better in terms of rejection, but imagine how much we could learn from doing tests and experiments with all our resources. Even if that use is just research on how to make stem cells into the cells we want, it could later be used on adult stem cells. Wouldn't this be more useful than just discarding them?

RE: Awesome
By omnicronx on 4/22/2008 2:59:14 PM , Rating: 5
It's ok to trash the embryos, but not ok to put parts of them to good use?
Common misconception, where do you think Macdonalds 'Grade A' meat comes from?

RE: Awesome
By junkdubious on 4/23/2008 12:13:00 PM , Rating: 2
McSoylent Green?

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/22/08, Rating: -1
RE: Awesome
By omnicronx on 4/22/2008 3:43:51 PM , Rating: 2
Who says it's right to discard them and trash them in the first place?
I am sure it is your right to pick whether or not you get to throw your cord into the trash. But... do you have a right to say what is done with that garbage?

As far as I am aware, if you throw something out, and leave it in your garbage can on the street, the police(along with anyone else) can legally go through it.

I know stem cells are a totally different situation, as they are probably thrown out in biohazard bags and never left in a public area, but it still illustrates that once you throw something out, it is no longer your property.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say the US government probably has strict rules on how such garbage is dealt with, just so issues like the one i described does not happen.

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/22/2008 4:40:43 PM , Rating: 2
The problem isn't just about throwing away dead embryos from say abortions. It's that if you are going to use embryonic stem cells you have to grow up more. You have to establish cell lines, passage, and maintain them. Over that course, a researcher could create enough to make tens of embryos (and thus tens of humans) before the telomeres degrade and the cells die of basically old age.

So, while we are throwing around words like "trash" and "discard", in reality no one is reaching into a biohazard bag and pulling out embryos to use, that'd be impossible due to contamination and obvious cell death. And even one embryo is not enough cells by any means for any serious research. That is why it's an ethical issue.

RE: Awesome
By hlper on 4/22/2008 6:13:09 PM , Rating: 2
Right, but there are liquid nitrogen freezers all over the country, in clinics that specialize in in vitro fertilization, full of all the extra embryo's they create (many times what is often wanted by the families). So, supply is not the issue.

Also, your post is mostly correct, but I wanted to say that a researcher cannot make even two embryos from one. Once the original is disrupted they just become a dish of dividing, and yes aging, stem cells.

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/23/2008 1:15:18 PM , Rating: 2
no, a researcher could easily make an embryo from any embryonic stem cell provided we had the nutrients and container correct for growth. Where do twins come from? A single cell breaks off from the zygote and grows into a new one, sometimes it's more than one cell.

But humans are deuterostomes with indeterminent development. That means, until gastrulation and the signal for cell differentiation is given, any pluripotent stem cell can become a full human being.

So, cells have to be harvested before this stage too, if you note. But why even have to debate about all this when there's no need? We can do much better with our normal stem cells, why throw science into a moral dilemma?

RE: Awesome
By SoCalBoomer on 4/22/2008 7:21:32 PM , Rating: 2
Totally different type of trash. This would be classified as bio-hazard (nearly all hospital trash would be classified as this - except obviously office paper trash and whatnot. . .) and has to be dealt with differently than any "normal" trash would be - you can't go through it, it's not public, etc.

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/22/2008 4:55:38 PM , Rating: 3
Ok, based on people's comments, I realize we need to do a basic biology lesson here to bring levels of understanding to par.

Where do embryonic stem cells come from? They come from early stage zygotes while the cells are still in pluripotent form, and before any organogenesis or morphological development ever begins: they are still in the ball stage of development. There are NO "thrown in the trash" embryos here.

Those cells in that stage are harvested and chemically treated to keep them in that stage. They then have to be grown many times over to give a researcher enough cells to work with. Each one of those cells could develop into a full blown human.

By the end of the day, those cells of course die, are used in experiments, and then they are trashed. In all reality, looking from a strict biological definition and sense, they are embryos. Cell lines only last so long before they age and die, unless they are a cancer line that has become immortal; so more early embryos have to be harvested from new genetically distinct individuals.

Now, being in science I have to be neutral on the issue from that standpoint, and I cannot tell anyone what is right or wrong, just what is happening from the biological standpoint. Is it right to grow up tons of these cells, use them and kill them, and start it all over again? That's for the public to decide.

HOWEVER. We can totally nix the issue and not even go there by using adult stem cells which cannot develop into a full human being no different than yourself--even the transformed ones (I don't think, though maybe it is possible). Since there is nothing in embryonic stem cells that you can't do in adult stem cells (there is an adult stem cell of every type of cell in your body, including neurons). So why use embryonic stem cells when they give us nothing new, only present medical problems we can avoid, and mire science in ethical debates that slow it down instead of getting us results? That's the question I posit.

RE: Awesome
By LordanSS on 4/22/2008 7:10:27 PM , Rating: 2
The stem cells you mentioned, coming from zygotes, are the only totipotent (not pluripotent) stem cells available to us at this time.

These totipotent cells are the ones who actually have the ability to be transformed into cells of any tissue type. Our body contains some very small quantities of cells, in certain tissues, known as somatic stem cells that have the ability to diferentiate into specialized cell types found on that tissue. An example of this are the somatic stem cells found in the skeletal muscle, liver and bone marrow, and are the ones mentioned in the article.

Any somatic stem cell has gone through several stages of diferentiation already, and has had many parts of it's gene structure activated/deactivated in the process. Through correct stimuli (chemical, etc), it is possible to revert part of the diferentiation, but there is a limit to how much you can go back, and that limit isn't that big. Many genes cannot be unlocked anymore, and that limits the cell's efficiency in differentiating and working as another cell type.

And then, we come back to the embrio stem cells argument... We are not going to grow substantia nigra neurons to help grandpa's parkinson's disease out of his liver stem cells. But the same way we could possibly find him a heart or kidney donor if he so needed, we could find an embryo or stem cell line compatible enough that would be usable on the regeneration of the tissue. Obviously, we do not possess the knowledge to do this exact procedure yet, and grandpa would most certainly be subject to rejection-prevention drugs as any kidney-transplanted patient would, but that is one possibility for the future, and why there is such a push for embrionary stem cell research.

Obviously there are moral concerns on many aspects of this type of research... and while the US government, and it's population, may not be willing to invest in them, there are other countries in the world, subject to different cultures and points of view on the subject, that are making progresses in this field already. Instead of finding treatment for your diabetes in a clinic in your city, you may need to ask Dr. Chen in China to fix you up. ;)

RE: Awesome
By sld on 4/23/2008 7:19:10 AM , Rating: 2
It will be better and easier to identify pluripotent stem cells in their respective specialisations and take it from there than to try coax totipotent stem cells into highly differentiated cell lines.

RE: Awesome
By LordanSS on 4/23/2008 9:01:12 AM , Rating: 2
In many cases, I'd have to agree that this would be a valid approach. There are advantages on using ones' own cells (if available) in regards to rejection and other immune-response issues.

There are many cases tho that such procedures would not be applicable. A diabetic individual, even if we could manage to extract enough somatic stem cells to actually regenerate and repair his pancreas function, will still be highly keen to diabetes once more due to his own genetic baggage. Also, you have to consider cell age: the older the cell, the more problems you are bound to face, and the chances of other health issues arising are also increased. If you "grow a pancreas" out of a 50-year old man's somatic stem cells, you get a 50 year old pancreas, whereas you'd get a "brand new" one from an embryo stem cell line.

Not saying that studies with somatic stem cells shouldn't be made, far from that. It is a very promising field, with advantages over embrionary stem cells (no rejection risk, etc). But we should not neglect the great importance that embryonic stem cell research has, since it has the potential to cover issues somatic stem cells simply can't.

RE: Awesome
By tmouse on 4/23/2008 9:23:29 AM , Rating: 2
Keep in mind the rejection issue is just one of the reasons ES stem cell work is limited. These cells also have been shown to have some tumorigenic properties in several studies as well. They also seem to lack homing potential which would be important for transplantation. It may not be as difficult as you seem to think to circumvent the epigenetic modifications of pluripotential cells and their limited cell fates are quite possibly a benefit. I know Rudy Jaenisch and while his idea of damaging genes that effect implantation leading to embryos that "can never survive" seems to somewhat skirt the euthanasia issue it is at best a fine line. Morally I will not comment on the embryonic stem cell issue (I am not a Theologian), also legally (I am not a lawyer) However scientifically we must understand that the death of an embryo is the destruction of an organism of that species. You simply do not "become" a species during development. In mammals we have a parasitic stage of life; from fertilization on you are a human, the fertilized egg is truly unique and not like any other cell type; any other interpretation is pure nonsense. The notion that there are plenty of embryos in freezers to supply an adequate supply is also nonsense. There is material; however over 1/3 of all fertilized embryos are defective (probably due to genetic lethals). The process of IVF also involves super ovulation which causes eggs that are not meiotically ready to also be released further reducing viability and increasing the risk of genetic instability. Freezing further limits viability; after 5 years less than 1/10 of the embryos are viable. This is why far more eggs are implanted than needed (leading to the occasional multiple births) and the most successful procedures use fresh material. Any therapeutic use would very rapidly dwindle this supply, and then what do we do? I regret most of my colleagues in this area are almost zealous in concentrating on the ES approach (it is easier I guess) and the need for human work when a true understanding of animal models is far from know quite frankly baffles me (outside of the cowboy I want to be famous way of thinking which seems to be growing in these times of ever tightening funding). I thank Geddarkstorm for the reference catch to Heber-Katz's work, I seemed to have missed it (she seems to publish in slightly more obscure journals). Unfortunately the story is not as rosy since the heart regeneration work has been refuted by 3 independent studies, but for my own research I think the line deserves some looking into.

RE: Awesome
By geddarkstorm on 4/23/2008 1:11:35 PM , Rating: 2
Um, no. Totipotent cells are not useful to us. Why? Because they can make only one tissue different than the pluripotent: the placenta. Totipotent cells line the outside of the blastula before the signal for differentiation and gastrulation begins (that's when the cells are no longer pluripotent). So, unless you want to make a placenta for kick along with everything else, you need the totipotent cells--but you can also just use placenta specific stem cells.

So, no, you are wrong I'm afraid. The pluripotent cells of the blastula stage can become ANY adult tissue what so ever. The only thing they can't become is the placenta, hence why they are not totipotent.

Any somatic stem cell has gone through several stages of diferentiation already, and has had many parts of it's gene structure activated/deactivated in the process. Through correct stimuli (chemical, etc), it is possible to revert part of the diferentiation, but there is a limit to how much you can go back, and that limit isn't that big. Many genes cannot be unlocked anymore, and that limits the cell's efficiency in differentiating and working as another cell type.

You're working on really old knowledge. That is easy to overcome. Demethylases are what do away with the epigenetic information put onto the DNA. Since they HAVE to come on during fertilization, it's easy enough to trigger them again. Once activated, they turn the DNA into a near blank slate (minus a few parentage specific methylations, but those will remain at all stages from egg to 70 years old). We've already succeeded in turning skin cells back into tissue NO DIFFERENT than pluripotent cells of them embryo, and also capable of becoming any and all adult tissue.

That is why embryonic stem cells are totally useless now--besides the fact they fail at medical treatments due to rejection. Look up MHCs and how the immune system works. Now, taking the already present stem cells in the body and getting them to do what they are supposed to do and regenerate an organ or limb? That's what's really useful and powerful, and that's what's going on here with the Army. If mice can do it now (it must be via some signaling molecule), then there's no doubt we can too, especially since they've found the same gene in humans.

RE: Awesome
By lmccrary on 4/22/2008 2:54:30 PM , Rating: 2
You're absolutely right about the foreign cells. I had a bone marrow transplant 17 years ago. I had an unrelated perfect match, but I still ended up with life threatening rejection. It took immune suppressing drugs and a great deal of time before it finally subsided.

RE: Awesome
By phxfreddy on 4/22/2008 7:03:36 PM , Rating: 2
OUCH! ... may the force be with you. That is no small item you describe!

RE: Awesome
By AsicsNow on 4/22/2008 5:26:26 PM , Rating: 2
There are several downsides to stem cells that need much more basic research done on before trying to use them in applications however. What they generally dont advertise is the large amount of tumors that arise in stem cell treatments. Cancer cells are very like stem cells, and stem cells placed into the wrong environment can act like a cancer cell.

Don't get me wrong, Stem Cell research is amazing, but its not gonna be a cure all solution anytime in the very near future. Would you want to regrow an arm if there was a >50% chance of getting cancer in the process due to lack of basic research?

RE: Awesome
By Alias1431 on 4/23/2008 10:06:49 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, this is not an issue anymore.

Go team humans.

RE: Awesome
By dever on 4/22/08, Rating: 0
RE: Awesome
By DigitalFreak on 4/22/2008 2:32:50 PM , Rating: 2
Never heard of you.

RE: Awesome
By ImSpartacus on 4/22/2008 3:04:14 PM , Rating: 2
Many animals are sentient. Sentience has nothing to do with it. (I understand you agree more or less, just throwing my opinion out there)

But what about sperm or discarded eggs? Couldn't they have matured into living breathing, thinking humans? Would they like to be wasted while some guy jacks off or a girl has a period?

What about unused sperm during intercourse? I'm sure many of the sperm could survive, but for whatever reason, did not. Didn't they deserve a chance? Why does only one of the sperm (usually) get to create a human?

Live is wasted all the time. Human live is wasted all the time. Humans are bags of chemicals that got lucky. Why do we have to say something like a human has to have a "soul" just to explain how they can walk and talk? Can't we just be satisfied with not knowing?

RE: Awesome
By sld on 4/23/2008 7:24:01 AM , Rating: 2
You're being inconsistent here if you're speaking up for science. Science seeks to understand everything.

And here we see how a logical treatment of evolution takes us. 'Bags of chemicals', eh?

RE: Awesome
By sld on 4/23/2008 7:33:29 AM , Rating: 2
Oh, and sperm and egg cells belong to their respective producers. More importantly, they do not possess the means to develop into the human body. Give them electric shocks, bribe them, threaten them, acidify them, blackmail them.. will never develop into humans.

Zygotes is different. Give them the right conditions and it WILL develop fully into a human. There's your distinction.

RE: Awesome
By sweetsauce on 4/23/2008 11:16:47 AM , Rating: 1
By right conditions do you mean then leeching off of another living being? Embryos are LEECHES, not sentient life. I think people need to get over themselves already, humans aren't that special. Morals shouldn't play any part in this argument at all, but some people have a stupid, in my opinion, "belief" that they are special creatures that god created, therefore we should protect their "soul." Once you get past religion, there is nothing preventing you from looking at embryos for what they are, CELLS. Nothing more nothing less.

RE: Awesome
By junkdubious on 4/23/2008 12:17:59 PM , Rating: 2

Embryos are LEECHES, not sentient life.

By that same argument, so is a 30 year ago who lives in his mom's basement.

RE: Awesome
By Shwanzig on 4/22/2008 5:36:15 PM , Rating: 1
Agreed, one of my friends was in the Army (intelligence), and he got exposed to some fucked up chemical that is slowly eating away at his nervous system.

Fortunately he still has a lot of time before it will have major changes (about 35 years), hopefully we'll be good by then.

By andrinoaa on 4/23/2008 6:27:53 AM , Rating: 1
Does anybody not think that this is rather weird that an organization devoted to KILLING, is using defence funds for medical research? This blurrs the line between military state and benevolent government. What next ? lol

RE: Sicko
By Schrag4 on 4/23/2008 9:25:13 AM , Rating: 2
I don't view the military as 'an organization devoted to killing'. If our military has 2 options to disable our enemy's military and both are just as easy some how but one would require less (or no) loss of life, they would certainly choose to kill less people.

To put it another way, killing isn't thier ultimate goal, but it is definitely necessary at times. Just like any one of us would kill out of necessity to protect our families.

RE: Sicko
By nekobawt on 4/23/2008 11:13:37 AM , Rating: 2
besides, a lot of research and development that we use in our every day lives comes from government and military labs.

RE: Sicko
By darkpaw on 4/23/2008 11:26:36 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Sicko
By andrinoaa on 4/23/2008 6:08:38 PM , Rating: 2
No doubt about it, The IRONY is not lost on you guys! lol

RE: Sicko
By andrinoaa on 4/23/2008 6:15:50 PM , Rating: 1
Are you so desensitised that you honestly don't beleive that their role is to kill? What is the training for then, serving tea to old ladies? armed combat , shooting, missiles, machine guns, balistic missiles, B52.... etc etc
Your military had two options in Iraq, two options in Vietnam etc: WHO is fooling WHO?

RE: Sicko
By tmouse on 4/24/2008 7:37:42 AM , Rating: 2
Actually if their mission was ONLY to kill those wars would have been over in a matter of hours. Outside of a military dictatorship the role of the military does not define the government. The research is most certainly in line with their mission it’s not necessarily humanitarianism that dictates this research it’s also practicality. The government spends tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars training their personnel and supporting the wounded; this would allow the wounded to be repaired and placed back into service and reduce that cost. Of course it also has benefits outside of the military.

RE: Sicko
By Kenenniah on 4/25/2008 6:08:00 PM , Rating: 2
In some situations it becomes the role of the military to kill, but for most of the time it is not. The main role of the military is to be able to kill, or in other words deterrence. The idea is that if your military is powerful enough, other nations won't want to attack you. So in actuality, the main purpose of the military is to make it so you don't have to kill.

Of course the military gets used outside this, whether correctly or incorrectly, but that doesn't change its primary purpose.

Body can already do it
By Screwballl on 4/22/2008 1:38:06 PM , Rating: 2
The body already has the potential to do this, it just needs the proper chemical reaction to turn it on. Using stem cells from embryos will not help, they need to look at how it can be triggered in adults.
I have done some pretty extensive reading on this lately and the Stem Cell angle is just another excuse to expand research into other areas, not regrowing limbs.

RE: Body can already do it
By Cybercat on 4/22/2008 4:27:34 PM , Rating: 2
The body already has the potential to do this, it just needs the proper chemical reaction to turn it on. Using stem cells from embryos will not help, they need to look at how it can be triggered in adults.
Indeed, I read something about this as well. But stem cells have other applications, so we may be able to kill a few birds with one stone here, or as you said, expand into other areas with it.

By nvalhalla on 4/22/2008 1:54:19 PM , Rating: 3
Regrowing limbs has already been done with recombinant DNA from lizards. Check out the work by Dr Curt Connors...

This is awesome
By icegreenhemp on 4/22/2008 3:18:20 PM , Rating: 2
Way to go!! Bout time we cured cancer and were able to regrow limbs.

I'm all for this, and frankly as the one above said. its discarded, then use it.

By Carter642 on 4/22/2008 3:54:30 PM , Rating: 2
At no point in the article does it even imply that the army wants to use embryonic stem cells for anything. The first paragraph is just a rather baited leader.

In fact the army wants to use cells from human donors (aka the patient) so please take the save the embryos rhetoric elsewhere, it's not relevent to this discussion.

Imagine the possibilities
By Smartless on 4/22/2008 11:44:29 PM , Rating: 2
1. Christopher Reeves might have been able to become Superman opposed only by HackMan.
2. Cartman will have sold all of those Grade A abortions without breaking his balls.
3. Ms. Garrison wouldn't have needed a mouse to regrow his lost manhood.

Well somebody had to say it.

By judasmachine on 4/22/08, Rating: -1
RE: whuh?!?!?
By daInvincibleGama on 4/22/2008 6:38:20 PM , Rating: 1
Did you even read the article?


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