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How can I donate eggs (oocytes) for stem cell research in New York State?

The NYSTEM program is not directly involved in obtaining eggs (oocytes) for use in stem cell research. The NYSTEM program provides funds to New York State stem cell researchers to conduct all types of stem cell research, including research involving plant, animal and human stem cells. On June 11, 2009 the Empire State Stem Cell Board revised the standards that apply to NYSTEM-funded research to compensate oocyte donors donating specifically for research purposes.

Where can I find more information on donating eggs for research?

Human embryonic stem cell research is dependant on the availability of donated eggs. However, before donating eggs, you should speak with a physician so you are aware of the risks involved in the procedure, and the processes for which your eggs may be used. New York State prepared information related to egg donation for infertile couples. In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences published a book on evaluating the risks of egg donation for stem cell research.

Where can I find information on clinical trials using stem cells?

The National Institutes of Health maintains a registry of current clinical trials, including trials that are recruiting new volunteers. The FDA recently approved the first clinical trial in the US using hESC-derived cells. However, this trial uses cells derived from hESCs; hESCs themselves have not yet been approved for use in clinical trials.

What about all the advertisements or news stories of people going abroad for stem cell treatment ("medical tourism")?

While many clinics advertise stem cell cures for many different diseases, clinical trials on the use of stem cells are very limited. Most of the success stories reported in the news and on the internet are anecdotal accounts. The reports on the success of such treatments cannot replace large-scale, rigorously controlled clinical trials to prove both the safety and efficacy of treatments. Additionally, the people running such clinics and profiting from them are the same people declaring them to be safe and successful, presenting potential conflicts of interest.

What is the difference between reproductive and therapeutic cloning?

Reproductive cloning involves creating an animal that is genetically identical to a donor animal through somatic cell nuclear transfer. In reproductive cloning, the newly created embryo is placed back into the uterine environment where it can implant and develop. Dolly the sheep is perhaps the most well known example. In therapeutic cloning, an embryo is created in a similar way, but the resulting "cloned" cells remain in a dish in the lab; they are not implanted into a female's uterus.

What are the risks of stem cell therapy?

As with any treatment, there are certain risks to stem cell therapy, including immune rejection of the cells used in treatment. Stem cells have the potential to divide many times and differentiate into many cell types, which is their great promise. Paradoxically, because of these abilities, stem cells also have the potential to form tumors. These potential risks dictate that both doctors and patients proceed with caution, and thus it is critically important that further research is conducted.

What are the potential benefits of stem cell research?

The National Institutes of Health indicates that approximately 1.1 million Americans suffer a heart attack each year, and together cardiovascular diseases and cancers are the top two causes of death according to the CDC, with each killing over half a million Americans each year. Regenerative medicine holds the promise of new ways to repair cardiovascular damage and of improved cancer treatment.

How are stem cells currently used to treat disease?

Somatic stem cells, such as blood-forming stem cells in bone marrow (called hematopoietic stem cells, or HSCs), are currently the only type of stem cell commonly used to treat human diseases. Doctors have been transferring HSCs in bone marrow transplants for over 40 years. More advanced techniques for collecting, or "harvesting," HSCs are now used in order to treat leukemia, lymphoma and several inherited blood disorders. The clinical potential of somatic stem cells has also been demonstrated in the treatment of other human diseases that include diabetes and advanced kidney cancer.

Is it true that some somatic stem cells in our bodies can be the source of common cancers?

So-called cancer stem cells are cancer cells that have stem cell-like properties, i.e., they can self-renew and differentiate into other cell types. They are associated with some, but not all, types of cancers. Data suggest that recurrence of some cancers is caused by a failure of current therapies to target and kill these cancer stem cells. However, the relationship between cancer stem cells and somatic stem cells is unclear. Somatic stem cells can become cancerous, but cancer stem cells do not necessarily come from somatic stem cells.

What are induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells?

iPS cells are somatic cells that were manipulated to exhibit properties of embryonic stem cells. Introduction of a set of four factors into somatic cells, along with specific culture conditions, alters each cell's epigenetic signature, resetting the cell to a pluripotent ESC-like state. This process is termed "reprogramming." Like ES cells, iPS cells can be differentiated into many different cell types in the lab, and mouse iPS cells have passed even the most stringent tests for pluripotency.


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