Don't Block Our Medical Future

We are at the juncture between the old medicine and the new - still mired in the limitations of the old but able to see on the horizon something utterly different in conception. That way is so new, so revolutionary, so transforming, that it deserves the name it has received. We are entering the world of regenerative medicine. We will remake ourselves - rebuilding and replacing the parts of our bodies that let us down; the parts that have sickened, degenerated or ceased to function.

Medicine of the 21 st century will have a new paradigm as the focus turns inward, to understand and harness the ways our bodies function on the molecular and cellular levels. Unlike today's other profound biomedical revolution - a high tech affair involving decoding our genome - stem cell research is a much more low-tech enterprise. It's not lack of scientific tools that is the main impediment; it is restrictive laws and public policies.

The first fruits of these revolutions will not come next week or next year, so it is important not to raise public expectations unrealistically. How to precisely direct the transformation of embryonic stem cells down predictable and desirable pathways remains unknown. But we could see some applications entering clinics in five years or so. These could address such hitherto intractable diseases as Parkinson's disease and diabetes, or even such scourges such as end stage heart failure.

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