The Age of Live Stem-Cell Therapy

After years of controversy, a therapy based on human embryonic stem cells is finally being tested in humans. The treatment holds out hope to paralyzed people, but at how great a risk?

What's the Latest Development?


When Hans Keirstead, a biologist at the University of California, Irvine, rehabilitated paralyzed rats by injecting stem-cells into their spines, the medical world marveled at what the future might hold. Thirteen years later, a private biotechnology firm, after leasing Keirstead's medical patents, has made stem-cell treatments for paraplegics the core of its research. The F.D.A. has approved stem-cell treatment for spinal cord injuries in humans, albeit with a series of safety precautions. Still, some in the medical community say there is not yet enough research to justify testing on humans. 

What's the Big Idea?

The road to stem-cell therapy has been a difficult one yet the technology remains truly revolutionary. Stem-cells are unique in that they can grow to become the tissue of any organ in the body. This has been a blessing and a curse for medical researchers. When injected with stem-cells, some damaged tissue has indeed recovered, but sometimes the stem-cells did not forget their original duty, to create an entire person. This has led to the development of tumors called teratomas that are composed of multi-organ tissues like teeth, bone and hair. 

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
Keep reading Show less

In Switzerland, gun ownership is high but mass shootings are low. Why?

In the face of seemingly unstoppable gun violence, Americans could stand to gain by looking to the Swiss.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • According to a recent study, the U.S. had the second highest number of gun-related deaths in 2016 after Brazil.
  • Like the U.S., Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership. However, it has a considerably lower rate of deaths from gun violence.
  • Though pro-gun advocates point to Switzerland as an example of how gun ownership doesn't have to correlate with mass shootings, Switzerland has very different regulations, practices, and policies related to guns than America.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.