31 December 2010

You're not a scientist...but want a cure for Spinal Cord Injury

Many Canadians will know the man in this picture. He was chosen the greatest Canadian in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) poll. For those of you who don't know him, let me tell you who he was and more importantly, who he wasn't.

First of all, who he was. He was the premier of the province of Saskatchewan in Canada from 1944 to 1961. He led North America's first democratic socialist government and during that time made big improvements in the lives of Saskatchewans. He later became leader of the a new social democratic party, the New Democratic Party, after leaving Saskatchewan for national politics. And now, before I lose your attention, let me tell you who he wasn't.

He wasn't an engineer...
but he almost completely electrified rural Saskatchewan by creating the Saskatchewan Power Corporation.

He wasn't a teacher...
but he reorganized the public school system in order to equalize conditions and enrich the quality of education and increased the education budget.

He wasn't an economist...

but  from 1944 to 1948 the province of Saskatchewan saw balanced budgets in all of its first four years, while government spending rose by 20% (with impressive budget surpluses of $8 and $9 million in years one and two). Between 1951and 1959 government revenues rose from $63 million to $143 million. While spending grew, the province stayed in the black every year.

He wasn't a lawyer...
but in 1947 Douglas created and put into place Canada’s first Bill of Rights. It included protections for the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly and elections, while also legally prohibiting both racial and religious discrimination.

And most importantly, he wasn't a doctor...
but January 1, 1947 Douglas created Canada’s first universal and compulsory hospital insurance program, and on April 25,1959 Douglas announced his government’s intention to introduce a universal and comprehensive medical care insurance program for the province. He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and he is only one of three non-medical professional laureates of this society.

So how did this Scottish born immigrant to Canada and  Baptist minister who as a kid almost lost his leg to 
 Osteomyelitis because his parents couldn't afford the medical care make all these things happen? He inspired people to act and only eleven years after his party was created, he became the premier of Saskatchewan.

He didn't bring medical care to people by raising donations for hospitals. He did it by making sure that people knew that free medical care was their right.

He wasn't an expert in medicine, but knew how to use experts to achieve his goals. He didn't just wait for the experts, he organized the experts and worked with them to achieve the goals that were most important to people. He built a movement and it changed people's lives.

PS. To keep this blog short, I at first thought only about writing about how Tommy Douglas brought medical care to Saskatchewans and all Canadians. I decided not to use the approach because I wanted to be fair to Douglas' memory. 
More on Tommy Douglas and his achievements: http://www.tommydouglas.ca/?page_id=88

23 December 2010

Greater than the might of atoms magnified a thousand fold - Part III

Part I Part II

I think there are easily about 100 people who would love me to get up out of my chair. And if you add another twenty or so people who would like to give me a punch in the head but are refraining while I'm in a wheelchair, my number goes up to 120 people.

from the Rick Hansen Spinal Cord Injury Registry 2001/2002
I bet that I could get all 120 to sign a petition for better organization and funding for stem cell research (but I don't think petitions are an answer).

I bet I could get about 80 to sign a postcard and actually mail it back to me asking for the same, and about 50 would attend a demonstration to get me a cure. The twenty in line to give me a punch in the head would probably storm any necessary barricades.

Everyone claims that the spinal cord injury community is too small to gain the necessary attention for a cure, but I don't think so.

I am not one, I am one plus 100. I am 101.

Let's do some atomic multiplication to show that we're not such a small group.

Looking the chart, you can see that we are not a small group. When you consider just those with spinal cord injury, you can see that we are already at 2.5 million people. Multiply this by, let's say 50 friends, family members, and enemies, and don't worry about their friends and their friends and their enemies, then we have 12,500,000 people read to fight for a cure.

Did you know our world wide community was that big? Now that we know how big we are, it's time to get get organized.

Let's wait for the next few posts to see how regular people like me and you have changed the world and their own lives.

PS. I know our world is that big and that's why this blog is available in the following languages.
Japanese, Italian, and Russian. Soon to be followed by French, German, Chinese, and Romanian.

19 December 2010

If I were a monkey, I'd be jumping, too

Everyone has good days and bad days. People in wheelchairs have them, too, but sometimes they are a little more pronounced than able-bodied people. Bad days tend to have a bigger impact on our bodies. 

Lately, my good days are far outnumbering my bad days, and this is good and bad. Good because I can get through the day without being uncomfortable or irritated, and that makes daily life easier to handle. Reintegration into society becomes a little more doable if you're not feeling like crap because of pain, or 'pins and needles', or a sore bum.

The bad point to good days for those with spinal cord injuries, or other chronic conditions, is that it fools us into thinking that life in a wheelchair isn't so bad. That living in the chair for life wouldn't be so bad. That maybe there is no need to fight for a cure when you're having so many 'good' days.

So I regularly need to remind myself that regardless how smooth things are going for me, I have to continue my fight to get cured. The point is to walk again, not to like my chair. 

Of course, if a cure weren't possible, then maybe resigning yourself would be best, but recent announcements this year regarding stem cell based cures for spinal cord injury, tell me that we are close, but your help is necessary.

The point of this blog was never to be a scientific journal, but to point out to people how possible, the once unimaginable, has become. There is no sense in me telling you to fight for a cure for spinal cord injury if you don't believe that it's possible, or if the science doesn't exist. 

Science is doing terrific things right now that will affect me and others you may know, in the very near future, but we won't get these things without pushing our own governments to speed up the process and spending the necessary resources to get us a cure.

Here is a big announcement from Japan just this month.

The first is an announcement made in here in Japan just a few weeks ago. With the use of  induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells - basically your own cells turned back into an embryonic state which can therefore become any type of cell) once paralyzed monkeys are getting unparalyzed. These monkeys were paralyzed from the neck down and within a week they got back their hand strength and could stand. Six weeks later they were jumping; jumping for joy, I bet.

Now there are still problems with iPS cells. There is a fear of the cells turning into cancer, but these monkeys haven't had a hint of cancer after three months. It also takes a lot of time to create the cells. In this case it took six months, but the monkeys got their cell transplants after only nine days of being paralyzed. There is still a long way to go, but it's getting closer.

But the most important thing about these cells is that they were first created from mice cells in 2006 and then in human cells in 2007. Three years later, they are being used to treat spinal cord injury in animals. That's speed, and shows how far stem cell research for spinal cord injury has come.

Compare this with embryonic stem cells and you'll see how quickly things are moving. In 1981, mouse embryonic stem cells were first isolated and grown. It took 17 years to be able to do the same with human embryonic stem cells, and then took another seven years to be able to use them on paralyzed mice. It wasn't until this year, four years after the mice walked, before they were even tried on humans. We're still awaiting the results of these safety studies, but this will be very interesting.

I'm not trying to push one type of cell over the other. Just trying to show how fast things are going and that the
science to get me out of this chair is here. Now if we can only get governments behind this, I'll be jumping, too.

12 December 2010

From Atomgrad to Stemgrads - Welcome to СтволовыеКлетк&AтомныеБомбы

The Russian version can be found at: www.stvolovyekletkiiatomnyebomby.blogspot.com

In high school history with Mr Martin...

And he used to say. "No one would like to live in the Soviet Union," he'd pronounce it 'SAWviet Union', "except maybe for Tesolat."

We were studying the Cuban Missile Crisis, or at least his version of the Cuban missile crisis, and teaching us how outrageous it was for the Soviets to try to put nuclear missiles in Cuba, when I asked a question.

"Then isn't it equally wrong for the US and NATO to have nuclear weapons in western Europe pointing at the Soviet Union." Well, after that, when ever we studied anything remotely to do with communist countries, I'd hear the refrain.

"No one would like to live in the Soviet Union, except maybe for Tesolat."
"No one would like to live in Red China, except maybe for Tesolat."
"No one would like to live in Castro's Cuba, except maybe for Tesolat," and on...and on...and on...

But just in case Mr Martin looks at this, I want to make sure that he knows I liked his classes, because even though he had his own version of history (and most historians do), he didn't prevent us from arguing our points.

I have to admit that I was truly impressed by the Soviet Union when I was in high school. I later learned and studied things that made me change my mind, but that was later.

Here was a country, which we were told was evil, corrupt, and backwards compared with the west, but they beat the Americans into space. More importantly to this blog, they were the second country on earth to possess an atomic bomb. They did this, after four years of war where they lost over 20 million people. After one in four Russians was either killed or wounded. After their country was left devastated from World War II, and they did it in seven years.

They realized that such technology could not just be acquired willy-nilly with researchers working uncoordinated at universities throughout the country. The Soviets went so far as to build Atomgrads. These ten cities were were nuclear weapons research and development took place. Again, we can see clearly how the full weight of the state is the only thing that can produce such technology, and in a very short time.

Regardless of what I learned later, it still doesn't change the fact that both the Soviet race into space and the creation of an atomic bomb, so soon after the horrors of World War II, are remarkable feats.

With the launching of this blog in Russian today, I hope that the new Russia can also become world leaders in stem cell research. Mr Putin has already showed how to get world leaders together when he hosted a thirteen nation conference on saving tigers. I like tigers, but I hope that the Russian leaders will make the same effort for people with the many diseases that stem cells hope to cure. I'd love to see ten Stemgrads built in Russia.