With the wealth of information available on stem cell therapy, it can be overwhelming to read through what is often complex and confusing material. A quick fact sheet on stem cell therapy is a good way to familiarise yourself with the subject and decide if further reading is of interest or benefit.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy is a set of techniques that aim to replace cells damaged or destroyed by disease with healthy functioning ones. The techniques themselves are still relatively new but their applications and benefits are broad. Some of the diseases they can help include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Various injuries (e.g. spinal cord)
- Eye diseases
Types of Stem Cell Therapy
There are a number of stem cell therapies that are currently being investigated or used to treat a range of diseases. These are:
- Adult stem cell transplants using bone marrow stem cells
- Adult stem cell transplants using peripheral stem cells
- Stem cell transplants using umbilical cord blood
- Therapeutic cloning
Benefits of Current Stem Cell Therapy
Although a great deal of stem cell therapy is still experimental, researchers have found the treatments promising for many diseases. Bone marrow stem cells, for example, are used to replace blood cells in people suffering from leukaemia and other cancers. Burn victims are also benefiting from stem cell therapy, which allows for new skin cells to be grafted as a replacement for damaged ones. New healthy cells can also be grown to treat eye diseases as well as replace dysfunctional tissues. The ultimate goal of stem cell therapy is to replace unhealthy cells with healthy ones and to do so efficiently, allowing proper cell functioning in the human body. In addition, the potential uses for stem cell therapy continue to grow as we learn more about the process whereby a healthy cell becomes a diseased one.
Challenges of Stem Cell Therapy
A major difficulty with stem cell therapy is to identify stem cells within an actual tissue culture. Cultures contain many different cells and it is a challenge to identify specific cell types. When the stem cells are identified and then isolated from tissues, the appropriate solutions must be created to trigger these cells to develop into the desired cell types.
Finally, there are additional issues even when cells are identified, isolated and grown. The new cells require implantation in a person and they must then essentially learn how to effectively function alongside a person’s own tissues. For instance, if you imagine a cardiac cell being implanted, think about the fact that it may not beat with the same rhythm of a person’s heart cells and is thus ineffective. A person’s immune system may also recognise the transplanted cells as foreign bodies and this can trigger an immune reaction that results in rejection of the new cells.
The potential of stem cell therapy to ease human suffering and dramatically affect disease has motivated scientists to research ways of enhancing current stem cell therapies and develop new ones. Stem cell therapy remains a new science but the results have thus far been impressive enough that scientists are eagerly studying ways to treat the many diseases that you or a loved one may suffer from one day.