Stem-cell therapy is the treatment or prevention of disease or conditions using stem cells. One of the most commonly used stem-cell therapies is bone marrow transplant. However, some therapies extracted from umbilical cord blood are also popular. By using stem cells, doctors can create living and functional tissues that can regenerate and repair organs and tissues in the body. The organs or tissues could have been damaged as a result of age, congenital defects or disease.
Stem cells go to the damaged areas and perform a repair and renewal process that regenerate new cells and tissues, thus, restoring functionality.
Is stem cell therapy overrated?
A section of the public is skeptical about stem cells’ therapeutic potential. It feels that the healing powers of stem cells have been overstated. However, an analysis of the likely benefits of stem cells shows that about 128 million in the US alone could benefit from this form of regenerative medicine. Those that will benefit the most are people with cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. Stem cells can also help people who suffer from severe burns, spinal cord injuries, and osteoporosis.
To make the news sweeter, researchers say that there is no limit to the types of diseases that stem cell therapy can treat.
It is a complex procedure
It is noteworthy, however, that stem-cell therapy is not a walk-in-the-park procedure. It is long and fraught with difficulty. The way from the lab to the clinic is a long one, especially for embryonic stem cells. The reason is that researchers have to do a lot of things before they can test the embryonic stem cells in a human disease. For example, they have first to develop the right cell type, search for a way to test the cells, and ensure that the cells are safe in animals before they can move them to human trials.
Probably the most difficult stage is when they have to coax embryonic stem cells to become a particular cell type. In a normal setting, stem cells in an embryo get a series of choreographed signals from the surrounding tissue. When grown in a lab dish, the researchers have to mimic those signals, otherwise the developing cells may remain immature or grow to a wrong cell type. Thankfully, decades of research have discovered the right signals needed to differentiate cells accurately.
Once the researcher gets a mature cell type in his lab dish, he should find out if the stem cells function in the body. That is because embryonic cells that have grown into, say, insulin-producing cells in the lab will only become useful if they continue to produce insulin when transplanted into the body. They should also find out if the stem cells can integrate into surrounding tissue.