Today, 1.5 million Americans abuse cocaine. Li and her colleagues have generated HUMAN stem cells that produce enhanced BChE expression in vitro. While still confined to a test tube, preliminary results indicate that this cell line is providing increased BChE levels, effectively decreasing cocaine concentrations; a potential first step towards protecting against cocaine addiction and overdose in humans.
Stem cells have already proven to be vital in a variety of medical applications. In fact, clinical trials are currently underway using stem cells to replace dying neurons in Parkinson’s patients after successfully doing so in mice! And while Li’s group hasn’t yet advanced to a clinical setting, they have created a sense of excitement and anticipation for future developments in the field.
Although stem cells garner the attention for Parkinson’s studies, their primary role in this study was to introduce BChE! Stem cells are the vehicle that deliver BChE without bodily rejection, raising the question, what other passengers can this vehicle transport? Beyond this, who should be the recipient of these transplants in the future? Should everyone be given preventative stem cell therapy just as they are given Chickenpox vaccinations in childhood? As research moves closer to human use, these questions will be at the forefront of future ethical conversations.
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