Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Stem Cell Therapy in Korea

The press in Korea recently reported on the first stem cell therapy to receive the approval of the Korean Food and Drug Administration for commercial use.

The therapy uses somatic stem cells extracted from the patient's own body to treat people with damaged heart conditions. The medication is injected directly into the heart through a coronary artery. The pharmaceutical company says that not all heart disease patients are eligible for the treatment but only those who have had angioplasty surgery will benefit from the treatment. It is reported that the treatment will take about four weeks.

The company has conducted clinical trials since 2005 at major general hospitals around the country, while investing about $28 million on research and development  Treatment will cost about $10,000, the company says. The editorial in the Catholic Times describes this new cell therapy as the first of its kind in the world, giving hope to many.

The use of adult stem cells--not the use of embryonic stem cells--is something that can be celebrated. There is nothing morally questionable with this medical procedure. The problem, the editorial states, was the way the news was handled by the press, focusing on the great financial windfall that is sure to accrue to the pharmaceutical company, and not focusing on questions concerning the safety of the procedure.

Capitalism is based, as we know, on the profit motive. But when life and death issues become entangled with the profit motive, often controlling  medical practice decisions, the editorial expressed reservations. Life, it said, should not be subordinated to other values. Clinical tests to  rule out problems with the procedure have not been adequately completed. And efforts to bring it to the marketplace quickly is no reason to jeopardize life. When we are dealing with life, caution should be our principal concern.

This is only the beginning for stem cell research. The therapies that will follow should always take into consideration the protection of life while companies pursue legitimate financial profit. Needless to say, the stock of the pharmaceutical company that introduced this breakthrough procedure did go up after the report in the press. 

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