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Close-up: Samuel H. Wood

Acclaimed stem cell researcher sees a bright future for science

World-renowned reproductive endocrinologist and board certified obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Samuel H. Wood is once again named as a listee in Marquis' 2011 Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, as well as Who's Who in Science and Engineering for his work in embryonic stem cell research and innovations with in vitro fertilization.

Wood is the CEO of Stemagen, a stem cell research and development company, and the founder and medical director at the Reproductive Science Center, both based in La Jolla. He has a Master's degree in psychology, a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and an M.B.A from San Diego Sate University.

With more than 15 years of experience in female and male fertility treatments and specializing in in vitro fertilization (IVF), Wood is considered one of the top reproductive endocrinologists in the country.

“In 2010, 93 percent of our egg donation cycles successfully resulted in a pregnancy. The per cycle pregnancy rate for a typical 35 year old woman is approximately 50 percent compared to a spontaneous monthly pregnancy rate of approximately 15 percent for fertile women of that age,” Wood said.

Samuel H. Wood

IVF was first used in 1978. Since then much of the technology has changed but the process remains clinically the same.

Two recent advances in the area of IVF involve the availability of single-embryo transfer (SET), which can yield excellent pregnancy rates while virtually eliminating the chance of multiple pregnancy, and the availability of laboratory procedures which test the health of embryos prior to the initiation of a pregnancy.

“Together, these advances give couples much greater control with less anxiety as they work together with fertility specialists to grow their family,” Wood said.

Medical science has made leaps in past decades regarding stem cell treatment, thanks to new advancements in medical technologies, therapeutic procedures, pharmaceutical developments and embryonic research.

In 2008, Marquis first recognized Wood for creating the first recorded human embryonic clones using his own skin cells. The embryos were destroyed shortly after inception due to current federal cloning regulations.

In an article published in The Washington Post on Jan. 18, 2008, Wood emphasized that it was not his intention to clone a person, stating "it's unethical and it's illegal, and we hope no one else does it either.”

His controversial research in therapeutic cloning attracted a lot of attention from both national and international media, and religious groups.

However, his documented work in the field of human embryonic stem cell research (hESC) was a significant catalyst that launched much debate in Washington.

In a public address at the White House on March 9, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order to “lift the ban of federal funding for promising stem cell research,” which was previously vetoed by President Bush after being passed in Congress.

“Although I have a great deal of respect for President Bush, I believe his vetoes of these two pieces of legislation, which were passed on a bipartisan basis, will be viewed in the future as tragic errors that unnecessarily prolong the suffering of patients with devastating degenerative diseases,” Wood said. Adding “because of these vetoes, meaningful progress in the area of embryonic stem cell research was largely nonexistent for several years (except in states that provided funding for this type of research).”

The United States is still the largest funded country of stem cell research, due in part to state legislation (mainly California’s Prop 71 and New Jersey’s S1909/A2840), universities and private investors. However, countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Singapore and China are making great strides in stem cell research because of their less stringent laws and secular policies.

Religion plays a large role in the ethical battle over stem cell research. Many religious organizations in the United States take a anti-abortion stance condemning embryo research as immoral.

“The recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling approving federal funding for research using new embryonic stem cell lines is a great victory for those that believe that personal religious views should not be used as a basis to block scientific research that holds the promise of mitigating the suffering of millions of American suffering from otherwise incurable diseases,” Wood said.

Embryonic stem cell research is being used to regenerate severed spinal cord injuries, spur insulin production and treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart diseases that affect millions of Americans.

“Universally accepted ethical principles should guide all scientific research," Wood said. "Idiosyncratic personal religious and ethical opinions have throughout history served only to delay scientific progress and in the process harm those that are most in need of assistance."

-Patruno is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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