Stem cell research
Despite growing public debate there is still a lot of confusion surrounding Stem cell research. Scientific work in the field is still at a relatively early stage and it is far from clear how its findings may be applied to the worlds of medicine or disability.
Critically, stem cell research relates to disabilities - Parkinson's, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's, blindness - that continue to elude medical cure. In practice this means that a breakthrough in stem cell research has the potential to change the lives of millions disabled people with a variety of conditions.
In this programme Three 60 explores what stem cell research means to those affected by such disabilities. Is it their only hope of an improvement to their quality of life? Do they see in it the promise of a cure? Or do they feel their desperation is being exploited by commercial interests who are selling an untested science?
There is also widespread concern that stem cell research has been prematurely touted as a cure-all. Anyone who believes that stem cell research offers the only hope of a cure will find himself/herself in a very vulnerable position. Research is at such a preliminary stage that it will take years before scientific proof is established and even longer before that proof arrives in the marketplace.
We will speak to people with disabilities targeted specifically by research in the field. What reservations do they have about stem cell research? What hopes?
We also speak to the scientific community in Ireland and discuss the ethical questions that arise in the field. We need to clarify the differences between different forms of stem cell research, namely between adult cells, cord cells and embryonic cells. We also establish what the legal position is in Ireland and gain an insight as to the reasons why the Catholic Church is firmly opposed to embryonic stem cell research.
Barbara grew up in Monkstown, the third child in a family of seven. After leaving school she lived in Germany, Amsterdam and London, turning her interest in art and sculpture into a career before moving to New York where she worked in a Manhattan art gallery. There she met her husband Flori and they moved back to Leitrim. Barbara was involved in a motorbike accident and is not paraplegic.
After the accident they packed up their car and moved to France, living nomadically until they happened upon a farmhouse for sale near the Pyrenees. With broad doors and an open plan it was wheelchair-friendly so they chose it as their new home. Using the internet she began to investigate current medical research on spinal cord injury. She became very interested n Stem Cell Therapy The result was Stepnow ( www.stepnow.org ), an internet-based activist group for people living with spinal cord injury. She has members from around 40 countries.
Matthew McGrath (with Mum Cathy McGrath)
Matthew had a suspected case of meningitis and was left paralysed by the illness. Cathy McGrath - mother of 4 year old boy Matthew who is a high tetraplegic (quadriplegic, both terms mean the same) - in other words paralysed from the neck down. Matthew is also unable to breathe on his own. He is finally home after a long and arduous battle to get the help needed, he spent over 1 year in hospital. Matthew lives at home and has a carer 18 hours of the day. He is mentally just the same as any other 4 year old. Cathy, his mother is hopeful that stem cell therapy will be applicable to Matthew as he is so young.
Brendan Healy (43) -is a T12 paraplegic from an injury 23 years ago (1984) resulting from a bicycle accident. Before his accident he wanted to work in cars as he loves them. After his accident he became a fitter and turner which is pretty hard to do in a wheelchair. He used to work for Semperit Tyres. After a few years he moved to computers. Brendan lives in Greystones. He has been married for 20 years to Michelle. Michelle and Brendan have twin children, Vicky and Adam, they are 10 years old.
A 77 year old mother of 13 and grandmother of 45 and great grandmother of 10. Helen Prout has suffered from Parkinson's for 22 years. She takes tablets every 3 hours. She does not like taking the tablets but she takes them because she hates the paralysis that she suffers. Sometime she tries not to take the tablets for 8 hours in order to make them work better the next time she takes them. Without the tablets she has very severe shakes. Her speech can be completely lucid but she is has extreme shakes.
She has retrained herself to speak, as it was becoming very slurred. She uses a tape recorder to tape her voice and she listens back to it to see how she sounds. She is the founder of a Cork Film Festival for the community. Helen has organized the festival since 1978 - with the first on in 1980. She would like to see more research done into Stem cells before she would go for it. Having said that she is pretty willing to try anything as her condition is so severe.