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Local foundation sees huge health care breakthrough

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- For several decades, stem cells have been touted as what will take health care into an entirely new realm that will create healing that, for our parents and grandparents, would seem like miracles.

But working in that industry for much of that time has taught Todd McAllister an important lesson.

“All stem cells are not the same,” says McAllister, who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. “The earlier that you typically catch them in the developmental timeline, the more proliferative and the more broadly they differentiate.”

What that means is that some stem cells that are more mature can do be used to do more things. That is why there has been so much interest in embryonic stem cells but they come with a lot of controversy, because many people see embryos as human.

“So we thought, well maybe - just maybe - we could get a stem cell from the placenta which is a discard tissue, that is the afterbirth, really, after the baby is born you have the afterbirth which is the placenta which is currently being discarded,” says Dr. Anthony Atala, who is the director of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine and has used stem cells to grow entire human organs. “We were looking for a cell that would have the power of a stem cell, but without the ethical issues.”

The public certainly has an appetite for stem cell therapies, according to McAllister.

“Stem cell tourism, today, is a multi-billion dollar industry,” he says. “Folks that are desperate for a cure that the existing medical therapies can't address, they travel to Costa Rica or Bangkok or India to get a treatment with really no understanding of what the risks and the benefits are.”

A safe version of that may be coming to fruition with the work of the Amnion Foundation and the best news may be, you don’t have to be a tourist to take advantage of them.

“To have it here in Winston-Salem, in North Carolina makes it even better,” notes Dr. Atala.

See the latest on this process, in this edition of the Buckley Report.