Stem cell research began way back in 1961 after a paper was published on radiation for cancer treatment revealed that there was such a thing as stem cells and that they could regenerate. Unfortunately in 1974 a total ban on fetal tissue research was put into effect until proper guidelines were established. Although the Ethics Boards was established the following year, US President Ronald Reagan shut down the funding and the charter on the research work. It was only in 1994 that President Bill Clinton reversed the order and research on stem cell tissue resumed. However in 2001, during the presidency of George Bush, research experienced another drawback when President Bush placed restrictions on the research which was eventually overturned when President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009.
Today stem cell therapy is offered around the world to persons with diseases and physical ailments or missing body parts like teeth. It is able to reduce suffering and give hope to those who were previously given nothing to hope for.
However, stem cell research is still ongoing which means that many of the therapies and major clinical solutions offered at this time are expensive and experimental. Eventually, it is hoped that stem cell therapy will be able to cure cancer, muscle damage, Parkinson disease, Type I diabetes, Celiac disease, Huntington’s disease, and neurological conditions.
There are still risks to using stem cell mainly if one opts for the stem cell therapy that uses cells from animals like black sheep and rabbits. In many countries, stem cell therapy is limited to human sources like bone marrow, blood and fats from the person who plans on being the recipient of the stem cell therapy.
Stem Cell in South Africa
It was just last March 2012 when stem cell and tissue banks were provided with strict government regulations for the purpose of research and therapeutic use. The first use of stem cell in South Africa was in Limpopo on a 3 year burn victim, Isabella Kruger. The operation was a complete success although the health skin cells were sent to the United States for the regeneration process before being flown back to Limpopo for the operation.
Right now there are 3 private stem cell banks in the country. With the new guidelines and regulations, it is expected that other stem cell banks will be established and the practice of illegal stem cell therapy be minimized if not eradicated completely. There are a number of illegal stem cell practices in South Africa which have resulted in dire consequences for the patients. Aside from the lack of skill and knowledge, there fake therapy solutions being offered by unscrupulous characters.
One such case was that of Biomark owned and operated by Stephan van Rooyen and Laura Brown, his girlfriend. They sold stem cell therapies to people from around the world including the United States, Germany, Brazil, and Switzerland. In 2003, their operations in the U.S. were shut down by the federal government and they moved to South Africa. They renamed their company Advanced Cell Therapeutics or ACT and proceeded to sell the therapies out of their Johannesburg location. Van Rooyen has an ongoing case against him while his girlfriend passed away in 2011. If found guilty, van Rooyen could be sentenced to more than 20 years in a U.S. prison and fined $1 million for every guilty verdict on the many counts charged against him.
In addition to the illegal practices, stem cell therapy is also facing another problem among many South Africans who are superstitious and fearful of new science. The local traditions and religious beliefs could stop many from seeking help through stem cell therapy.