Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Science kicks ass!

Diabetics cured by stem-cell treatment

From the Times (London)
Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again.

This is the kind of story that makes me punch the air and shout "YES!"
A trial involving 15 young type 1 diabetics. They were given immune supressing drugs and then stem cell transfusions taken from their own blood.
As a result, their bodies have satrted producing their own insulin. 13 of the 15 "guinea pigs" no longer need to inject themselves with synthetic insulin, and have been indipendent of insulin suppliments for 3 years.

It's early days, but what a break-through! Type 1 diabetics have to inject themselves up to 4 times a day from childhood. Type 2 diabetes is the kind that appears later in adulthood and is linked to environmental factors like diet.

There are still question marks about exactly how the treatment works, and further studies will be required to fully evaluate it’s safety and efficacy.
“As a research scientist I am always hesitant to speak of a cure, but the initial results have been good and show the importance of conducting more trials,” Dr Burt said.

This caution, and that the trial took place 3 years ago, and is only now hitting the news, make me feel that this is science and medicine at its best. Slow, methodical, peer-reviewed, cautious, but at the same time an unstoppable force.
In one of my favourite books "Zen and the Art of Mororcycle maintenance" Robert Pirsig says of the Scientific Method:
When I think of formal scientific method, an image sometimes comes to mind of an enormous juggernaut. A huge bulldozer--slow, tedious, lumbering, laborious, but invincible. It takes twice as long, five times as long, maybe a dozen times as long as informal mechanic's techniques, but you know in the end you are going to get it. There is no fault isolation problem in motorcycle maintenance that can stand up to it. When you've hit a really tough one, tried everything, racked your brains and nothing works, and you know that Nature this time has really decided to be difficult, you say, "Okay, Nature, that's the end of the nice guy," and you crank up the formal scientific method.

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At 10:46 am, Blogger Chris Bradley said...

I agree with Pirsig about science save one thing.

Science isn't slow. It's pretty much the fastest way to do things known to humans, in terms of fruitful change. If anyone point to anything that changes, usefully, faster than science, I'm all ears. ;)

At 4:25 pm, Blogger L>T said...

It is awesome! I'm glad to see a post on it. having a niece diagnosed with type one diabetes at 7 years old & watching how she's suffered (she's now in her mid-30's & has had 2 organ transplants)
This is a great advance. Yay Scientists! Yay humans!

BTW, I loved "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenice"

I must confess, I read(listened to) the whole unabridged version by audio tape.(I have a hard time reading long books but i can focus if I listen)
I didn't understand all of it, but loved what I did understand.
Now, that my knowledge of philosophy, is a little better, I should read it again.

At 10:57 pm, Blogger King Aardvark said...

Well Pirsig is right in some ways about that. Take this diabetes cure (if it works out) for instance. If we didn't have our formal scientific processes, peer review, repeat trials, etc, it's possible that a lone wolf mad scientist type, starting at the same time as these guys, could have pushed all this out into market by now. Of course, the vast majority of people who work this way produce crap and little that is well documented enough to be helpful to future researchers. As a whole, science is the fastest thing we've got, but there can be small instances that are faster in the short term.


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