Applications of stem cells

Stem cell therapy also known as regenerative medicine is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition or to treat injured and/or diseased tissue. It is considered the successor of transplantation medicine. Human embryonic stem cells have the potential to provide an unlimited amount of tissue for various treatment purposes. The research to develop various sources for stem cells and to apply stem cell treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and conditions, heart disease diabetes, etc., is rapidly advancing. Bone marrow transplant is one of the most common usages of stem cell therapy.




Cardiovascular disease treatment

Heart defects such as myocardial infarctions and congestive heart failure creat great damages to the heart tissue. And since the heart has minimal ability to regenerate and repair itself it can lead to further catastrophe for the patients' health. There are two major ways in which heart stem cells can be of use in this situation. Firstly the extraction and culture of cardiac stem cells from individuals with a genetic predisposition to heart defects can help in experimental drug development and treatment of the defect since all the cells would carry the defect in their genes. Secondly, heart tissue grown in vitro through tissue engineering can help replace damaged heart muscle in individuals who've suffered heart attacks and congestive heart failures. Cardiomyocytes can be grown in the lab using embryonic stem cells as well as reprogrammed human induced pluripotent stem cells. The area that needs development though is the successful transplantation of the engineered tissue into the patient. These stem cells also help in creating great models for disease studies.


Strategies to repair heart muscle with adult stem cells

© 2008 Terese Winslow

Stem cells and drug testing

Stem cells can be used to determine the toxicity and other characters of chemicals during drug development and hence have an important benefit for the pharmaceutical field. This technique can be used to assess the safety of new drugs that can provide far more accurate results before moving on to the use of conventional animal models and human models which can be tested further down the line. Drug companies generally have banks of a wide range of stem cells from different tissues that belong to people from varied genetic compositions as they are the best preliminary drug testing candidates. Stem cells can, therefore, offer hope for efficient treatment or even a reversal of the disease.

Treatment of burn victims

The wounds of burn victims tend to give them an enormous amount of pain as well as frustration from the challenges of healing. Instead of obtaining donor tissues through donation, stem cells can be used to produce new and healthy tissues through stem cell culture. This is practically similar to therapies already being used, such as bone marrow transplants, where stem cells are used to create specialized blood cells.
Scientists intend to locate and extract specific stem cells from a tissue and then trigger them to differentiate and grow outside of the body before transplanting them back into the patient in order to replace the damaged tissues. In the case of burn victims, a small piece of the skin can be progressively grown in vitro, allowing doctors to cover a burn injury that is usually much larger than the size of the original skin piece that was extracted.

Potential to Reverse Diseases

Scientists can induce stem cells to differentiate into specialized cell types in the lab, which provides an amazing possibility to create a renewable source of replacement cells for those suffering from various diseases.

  • Heart Attack - As mentioned earlier a patient who has suffered from a heart attack and has had heart damage could have the damaged tissue replaced by healthy new muscle cells.
  • Parkinson's Disease - The degeneration of brain cells such as neurons in conditions such as Parkinson's disease can hopefully be reversed or slowed down with the potential insertion of new, healthy and functioning brain cells.
  • Genetic Defects - Even more promising is the potential of stem cells to address genetic birth defects by increasing function and health with the introduction of normal healthy cells produced from stem cells that do not have these defects.
  • Diabetes - In the case of type 1 diabetes where the patient's own immune system destroys its insulin-producing pancreatic cells, human embryonic stem cells can be used to generate healthy disease-free pancreatic cells which can then be transplanted.
Blood disease treatments

Adult hematopoietic stem cells present in the blood and bone marrow have been utilized for years to treat diseases such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other immunodeficiencies. These cells have the capability to produce all blood cell types. Although, difficulties may arise in the extraction of these cells through the use of invasive bone marrow transplants. However, hematopoietic stem cells have also been located in the umbilical cord and placental tissues. This has led to the creation of an umbilical cord blood bank to make these versatile cells easily available and to decrease the risk of a body's rejecting therapy.

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