People are fascinated by the idea of miracle cures, especially with bodies healing themselves. Stem cell research may be the closest we can get to these miracles through its regenerative medicine studies.
Stem cells, or also known as “undifferentiated cells”, are special since they have the ability to develop into other different types of cells. They divide to renew themselves where they either remain a stem cell, or a new type of cell like blood cell, muscle or brain cell.
Stem Cells Used in Therapy
Scientists are confident that stem cells can be a treatment for conditions like heart diseases or diabetes. With their regenerative capabilities, they play a significant role in repairing tissues by replacing dead cells.
An example is transplanting lab-grown stem cells into a patient’s damaged heart tissue. The Cardiovascular Translational Research journal published a report where they conducted a study and found a significant reduction in the scar size of a heart tissue that was caused by heart attack where in the past; this was seen as untreatable and permanent.
The 11 participants reported a 30 percent improvement in their heart function and 70 percent improvement in their quality of life after 2 years of being treated with stem cells.
Stem Cells Used in Development of Drugs
Stem Cells are used in the development and testing of new drugs. These stem cells used for these purposes are called pluripotent stem cells and they are genetically reprogrammed to resemble other different kinds of cells – like cancer cells.
By doing so, drugs for these specific cells like anti-cancer drugs can be tested on them.
Are the therapies working?
Stem cell therapies are mostly still theoretical and not yet 100 percent evidence based. Yet a number of clinics in the United States have opened and are allowed by the US FDA to provide stem cell therapies.
They are allowed to inject and treat their patients with their own stem cells, with treatment solely intended for their natural function like treating cancer or sports injuries.
Where can you get stem cells?
There are different types of stem cells and are extracted in different kinds of ways.
Adult stem cells can be harvested from different tissues like bone marrow, brain, skeletal muscle, blood vessels, teeth, skin, liver or gut, etc.
Amniotic fluid contains stem cells that can be used to treat certain congenital birth defects after birth or during gestation. This is called amniocentesis where they test and check for birth defects before the childbirth.
Embryonic stem cells are taken from a few days old embryo.
Then there are the pluripotent stem cells that are reprogrammed to be used in regenerative medicine.
There has been controversy around the medical research on the use of stem cells. In the 1990’s, scientists first mastered harvesting stem cells from human embryos.
This created a complex ethical and moral issue as there are beliefs where life begins at conception, so an embryo has the same human rights as a child or adult.
In 2002, former president George Bush banned the funding of stem cell research because of his firm pro-life beliefs, which were later on partially rolled during the term of former president Obama.
Advancement in technology allowed the use of Pluripotent stem cells, which were not harvested from embryos, changed the attitude towards the research of stem cells.
Current stem cell research is looking into understanding how to replace defective cells with healthy cells in both humans and animals and the development of organisms.
Two scientists in 2016 have created a synthetic biomaterial that stimulates the stem cells in patient’s own teeth. They are confident that this research will replace tooth fillings by using stem cells to trigger the damaged tooth to heal itself.
How to understand cancer
Cells dividing abnormally cause birth defects and serious conditions like cancer. Studying how stem cells act and the process of differentiation in cells can help us better understand how to treat these certain diseases and maybe even prevent them.
In the not so distant future, stem cells will be a part of regular medical practice as the science and research around stem cells is constantly developing. With the hopes of self-healing bodies and therapeutic norms, stem cell is sure to revolutionize the world of medicine.