Stem cells are cells capable of transforming themselves into different biological cells in our body performing various functions like transmitting messages, transporting oxygen, carrying impulses, manufacturing proteins, producing pigments and carrying out the manufacture of different substances required by our body.
Obtained from the umbilical cord after birth, and throughout the life from blood, bone marrow and adipose tissue, stem cells possess amazing qualities of regeneration and pluripotency. While the property of regeneration comes quite handy while repairing damaged tissues of the body, pluripotent cells like the stem cell can differentiate into any kind of cell-exactly the quality required for the development of an entire fetus from a single cell.
AdvertisementNeedless to say, stem cells have become the subject of research among many scientists.
Use of Stem Cell Therapy: Over the decades, stem cells have contributed to the development in a huge number of treatment options for various diseases including diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular ailments. Have a quick look at how stem cell therapy has covered and uplifted the treatment of these disorders. Read on.
Cancer: Cancer, being one of the most fearsome diseases, is now relatively easy to handle-all thanks to stem cell therapy. Brain cancer is the most difficult to treat, mostly due to its rapid spread and its asymptomatic nature in the early stage. Stem cell therapy promises to treat intracranial tumors as efficiently as it does in dogs and other research animals.
The researchers at Harvard Medical School are currently working on a model of drug development that may, in the next few years, enable doctors to reduce brain tumors by 80% of their size with the introduction of stem cells in the cancerous cells.
Brain damage: With Parkinson's and Alzheimer's cases on the rise, the need for drugs that reverse brain ageing has increased. The regenerative property of stem cells works equally well in these cases and is expected to treat more than a million patients worldwide.
Brain injury involving loss of neurons is compensated effectively by injecting neural stem cells. This maintains the healthy neuron population and reduces possible loss of physiological functions due to the damaged parts.
Heart disorders: Though animal studies on the use of stem cells for treatment of myocardial infarction showed remarkable therapeutic effects, human studies have demonstrated modest, yet statistically significant effects. This is because the effectiveness of this treatment greatly depends on the age of the subject, the timing of the treatment, and the number of re-occurrences of myocardial infarction.
For myocardial infarction and other cardiovascular ailments, stem cell therapy works either by regenerating damaged heart muscle, or by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels to repopulate the damaged tissues, or by stimulating growth factors.
Spinal cord injury: Back in 2003, Korean researchers managed to help a lady suffering from spinal cord injury, paralyzed and in bed for roughly 19 years, walk around and perform different day-to-day works. Stem cells extracted from the umbilical cord helped them induce regeneration of nerve cells and restore locomotive functions in the patient.
This amazing work has motivated many scientists and in the near future, diseases like muscular dystrophy would hopefully find a solution.
Blindness: Stem cell therapy may prove to be good news to those suffering from vision impairment and macular degeneration. The use of corneal stem cells to stimulate damaged corneal cells and renew repair has been done since the year 2005, and with the research still going on, in the future, it may be possible to restore normal vision in patients even by extracting stem cells from a relative or a cadaver.
Missing teeth: The scientists at King's College, London worked and gave rise to a complete tooth in mice. This technique is expected to work for humans too, by coaxing stem cells to turn into an entire tooth using stand alone methodology. This tooth, when implanted on the gums is thought to secrete chemicals and substances that stimulate the nerves and blood vessels to connect to it.
Deafness: Using embryonic stem cells, cochlea hair can be re-grown, paving a new way for the deaf to finally hear and restore the vital sense.
Diabetes: Diabetes, a disease affecting millions of people worldwide, happens due to a loss of function of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Stem cell therapy can help diabetic patients handle their blood sugar levels better by transplanting human embryonic stem cells into the patient. The success of this treatment is largely dependent on the proliferation of the transplanted cells, the integration of the cells in the targeted tissue, and prevention of transplant rejection.
Infertility: It is found that the differentiation of stem cells can lead to the production of sperm-like cells which may prove to be helpful in the treatment of azoospermia. Also, oogonal stem cells are capable of forming mature oocytes in both mice and humans.
Wound healing: Fetal tissue repair is different from that of adults. While in the fetus, damaged tissue repair is done by the stem cells, adults have a different tissue repair system involving damaged hair follicles, scar tissue, disorganized collagen structure and irregular vascular structure. In stem cell therapy, adults are injected with stem cells in the wounded tissue to promote healing similar to fetal wound healing response.
The new research: New researchers are constantly being conducted and millions of dollars are being spent every year on clinical trials and animal studies to help develop new treatment procedures for genetic diseases and incurable ailments. Listed below are a few of them.
Orthopedic repair: People suffering from tendon injury, osteoarthritis, ligament injury, subchondral bone cysts and other orthopedic diseases can now be treated by stem cell therapy-more efficient and faster than conventional treatments.
Tendon and joint repair: Race horses go through numerous joint and tendon injuries. Regeneration by introduction of bone marrow and adipose cells displayed surprisingly effective results.
Nervous system repair: New stem cell research implanting mesenchymal cells at the site of spinal cord injury has been tried out in animals. This treatment has produced higher improvement compared to conventional therapies.
Bone repair: The bone is equipped with a natural healing process that is sufficient enough for its own repair. However, in case of severe trauma and fractures, seeding of mesenchymal stem cells is done. This therapy may help treat a huge number of patients suffering from degenerative bone diseases. Pain reduction is one of the added plus points in this process.
Personalized medicines: Gasbang Lee, Assistant Professor at the John Hopkins's University School of Medicine's Institute for Cell Engineering, used pluripotent cells to replicate an individual's diseased cells and check the effects of pharmacological agents on it. Lee and his colleagues biochemically programmed the skin cells from a patient suffering from Riley-Day syndrome, a rare genetic disease, to form iPSC's-which can replicate and grow into any other cell of the body.
These iPSC's were then programmed to replicate the 'affected' nerve cells of the patient suffering from Riley Day syndrome. They then used these lab-grown nerve cells to test the effects of around 7000 drugs, which would have been potentially impossible to be done on an individual.
This type of testing may prove to reap enormous benefits for the drug development of rare genetic diseases as opposed to other costly models of drug development.