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TOP 100 REVIEWERon January 24, 2012

"Stem cells have the potential to provide new and more effective treatments for diabetes, heart disease, genetic diseases, neurological diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and even cancer; to repair debilitating injuries, such as spinal cord damage; and restore lost function, such as our sense of sight, hearing, smell, and touch, even limbs lost in combat. Already they have enabled blind mice to see, paralyzed rats to walk, and monkeys suffering from severe Parkinson's disease to show dramatic improvement in their symptoms...

[Stem cells] could transform medicine and be an unprecedented humanitarian benefit."

The above extract comes from this fascinating book by Dr. Leo Furcht and William Hoffman. Furcht is professor and chairman of the Department of Lab Medicine and Pathology at the University of Minnesota Medical School (UMMS). Hoffman has been a writer and editor at UMMS for over twenty-five years.

What exactly are stem cells? They are "non-specialized cells that have the dual capacity to...self-renew differentiate into more mature cells with specialized functions."

This book gives you an up-to-date, well-researched, and perhaps most importantly, an accessible account of stem cells. Not only are the science and scientific breakthroughs discussed but mentioned, as well, are the ethical concerns, political tensions, and just plain hope surrounding stem cell research. For a stem cell novice like me, I couldn't ask for a better resource.

What exactly is the "dilemma" mentioned in this book's title? As the above extract states, stem cells offer tremendous hope and even possible cure for a wide range of afflictions. However, many people are opposed to research using embryonic stem cells. (There are, as this book points out, other types of stem cells.)

This book is also bluntly realistic. Brock Reeve, the executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (and brother of actor and stem cell advocate, the late Christopher Reeve) states in the forward he wrote for this book, the following:

"[D]espite the advances of the last few years, we are still far from fulfilling the promise of stem cell science, and no matter how promising that science may be, cures for the diseases that stem cells address are not around the corner."

(The above statement by Reeve applies to North America. As this book points out, "stem cell tourism" is now occurring where the power of hope of stem cell therapy has some patients seeking unproven stem cell treatment outside North America.)

To give you an idea of how fast this field is moving, the first edition of this book was published in 2008. This second edition was published just three years later!

There is a glossary at the back of the book. The above definition of stem cells comes from this glossary. There is also an interesting "stem cell timeline", again at the back of the book. One of the more interesting events occurred in 2009:

"World's first human clinical trial of embryonic stem cell-based therapy is launched." (This was for patients with acute spinal cord injury.)

Finally, I have a neurological condition called "cerebellar degeneration." This is a fancy way of saying that something is wrong with my crebellum (which controls movement). Thus, I'm interested in participating in clinical stem cell trials for cerebellar degeneration when they become available. If you have any information on such therapy and trials, please contact me. (You can obtain my e-mail address by clicking on my name above which will bring you to my profile.)

In conclusion, stem cells have incredible healing potential and may be the only hope for millions of patients with debilitating medical conditions. The twenty-first century may well become the century of the...stem cell!!

(second edition published 2011; preface; foreword; prologue; 6 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 250 pages; glossary; timeline; bibliography; index)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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