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US NRI Dr.'s movie "Hope"received tremendous response
“Hope” is a drama rooted in the debate over stem-cell research


New York, June 08, 2008
Devinder Saini

NRI doctor from Punjab, Shelley Chawla, a neurologist in Topeka, Kansas, made a film which was screened at the Cannes film festival this year, won accolades for its remarkable script.

The script of the film has been written by Dr.Chawla. He is also the co-producer of the film and has played the role of a doctor. Dianne Wilson, Chawla’s nurse also played the role. Rich Ambler, a Kansas film director has directed this movie. Hope is an offbeat film about supporting research on stem cell for future medical care.

Dr. Chawla, 43, became upset when he saw the embryonic stem cell controversy through one fictional family's struggles with the issue. He started to write a book and led to a screenplay, which is to become a film called "'Hope". The film has had two screenings at the Cannes Film Festival sales market in May.

A leading opponent of embryonic stem cell research, Senator Bob Moreland built his political career on this conservative issues. His son was involved in a tragic car accident on his 18th birthday. He suffers a spinal cord injury, it sets up a confrontation between his mother, who wants to take the boy to India for stem cell treatment, and his father, a U.S. senator opposed to stem cell research.

Dr. Chawla said:

  • He believes that some of the suffering he sees while treating chronically ill patients could be eased by embryonic stem cell research, which has been delayed in the U.S. by political and religious opposition.
  • The point of the movie is to put the whole issue in a personal perspective. All of these people saying no (to research), what would they say if they need it some day?
  • That belief was tested when Senator Bob Moreland's son is left a quadriplegic after an ugly crime, and the senator faces intense pressure from his family to take him to India, where stem cell research offers hope. But the senator knows that course would likely cost him his constituents' support.
  • The film according to him is not a slick entertainment but intends to push people into action and with his film he intends to help his patients.
  • The novel and the movie seek to challenge the Americans to examine their attitudes to embryonic stem cell research. It tries to break new ground in conveying the complexity of bio-ethical issues while sharing raw, often tender accounts of patients and families suffering under the burden of catastrophic illness and injury.

The screenplay was written by local scribe Christopher Ryan, who also wrote Ambler’s debut feature, “Raising Jeffrey Dahmer.” Ambler said, “The movie’s main investors are three other doctors who all want to make the same point that stem cell research in America is a ways behind that in other countries.”

The film has received tremendous response from film and documentary organizations from France, UK, India and South Africa.

When hope is all you have … it might be all you need.

He studied in the Sacred Heart Convent School, Sarabha Nagar and the Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab. Chawla lives in Topeka with his wife, Anita, and daughters Mannat, 8, and Ruhani, 4. He is the son of Dr. LS Chawla,a former vice- chancellor of the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences. He completed his residency at the University of Illinois-Chicago and has been a practicing neurologist in Topeka for seven years.

Chawla said. "I wanted to educate people on the good points of stem cells. Many people have the wrong idea about how the research works."

Embryonic stem cells:

Embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, which come from the inner cell mass of a human embryo, have the potential to develop into all or nearly all of the tissues in the body. The scientific term for this characteristic is "pluripotentiality."

Adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are unspecialized, can renew themselves, and can become specialized to yield all of the cell types of the tissue from which they originate. Although scientists believe that some adult stem cells from one tissue can develop into cells of another tissue, no adult stem cell has been shown in culture to be pluripotent.

The potential of embryonic stem cell research. Many scientists believe that embryonic stem cell research may eventually lead to therapies that could be used to treat diseases that afflict approximately 128 million Americans. Treatments may include replacing destroyed dopamine-secreting neurons in a Parkinson's patient's brain; transplanting insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in diabetic patients; and infusing cardiac muscle cells in a heart damaged by myocardial infarction. Embryonic stem cells may also be used to understand basic biology and to evaluate the safety and efficacy of new medicines.

The creation of embryonic stem cells. To create embryonic stem cells for research, a "stem cell line" must be created from the inner cell mass of a week-old embryo. If they are cultured properly, embryonic stem cells can grow and divide indefinitely. A stem cell line is a mass of cells descended from the original, sharing its genetic characteristics. Batches of cells can then be separated from the cell line and distributed to researchers.

The origin of embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from excess embryos created in the course of infertility treatment. As a result of standard in vitro fertilization practices, many excess human embryos are created. Participants in IVF treatment must ultimately decide the disposition of these excess embryos, and many individuals have donated their excess embryos for research purposes.

Existing stem cell lines. There are currently more than 60 existing different human embryonic stem cell lines that have been developed from excess embryos created for in vitro fertilization with the consent of the donors and without financial inducement. These existing lines are used in approximately one dozen laboratories around the world (in the United States, Australia, India, Israel, and Sweden).

Therapies from adult and embryonic stem cell research. To date, adult stem cell research, which is federally-funded, has resulted in the development of a variety of therapeutic treatments for diseases. Although embryonic stem cell research has not yet produced similar results, many scientists believe embryonic stem cell research holds promise over time because of the capacity of embryonic stem cells to develop into any tissue in the human body.

Adult stem cells and cord blood stems cells have thus far been the only stem cells used to successfully treat any diseases. Diseases treated by these non-embryonic stem cells include a number of blood and immune-system related genetic diseases, cancers, and disorders; juvenile diabetes; Parkinson's; blindness and spinal cord injuries. Besides the ethical problems of stem cell therapy (see stem cell controversy), there is a technical problem of graft-versus-host disease associated with allogeneic stem cell transplantation. However, these problems associated with histocompatibility may be solved using autologous donor adult stem cells or via therapeutic cloning.



Film with local ties tackles issue of stem cell research

Dr. Shelley Chawla stops for a photograph in an examination room at his office in Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, April 16, 2008. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Orlin Wagner

“Hope” is based on Dr. Shelley Chawla’s novel.