Stem Cell Therapy
The world of stem cell therapy is vast and complex. It is currently engaging some of science's greatest minds- those trying to explore the potential of this possibly revolutionary form of medical treatment. This article gives a brief overview of the current climate in this medical field.
Search 'stem cell therapy' on Google and you'll be bombarded with a plethora of complex information. In short- it's avast, exciting, and still relatively new frontier for science, which isn't easy to explain for the non-medical mind. A good starting point to understanding it is by using it's often used synonym 'regenerative medicine'. It's aim is to use stem cells as a 'reparative response' to diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue. The idea is that stem cells are grown in a lab, and altered to form specific cell types according to the tissue of the part of the body that needs treatment. These specialised cells can then be implanted into the person to help the 'regeneration' and repair of damaged cells in particular parts of the body. One major hope of this treatment is that eventually it will remove the need for artificial replacement therapies.
Stem cells have long been known to exist in areas that continually regenerate such as skin and blood. More recently, however, stem cells have been identified in organs previously thought not to have regenerative capability. Understanding stem cell therapy becomes more complex at the point of trying to interpret for which diseases, illnesses and organs are treatable using this method. Bone marrow transplant and adipose tissue are the most common field in which stem cell therapy is currently being used, as they're some of the few that have passed the clinical trial stages. Currently 26,000 patents are treated with blood stem cells in Europe each year. However research and development in other areas is rapidly evolving. Some of the most advanced clinical trials currently being held are aiming to treat organs, spinal cord, skin and corneal diseases.
It may also be noticed when browsing through information related to the topic, that the word 'controversial' frequently arises. It is at this point important to distinguish between types of stem cell.
When discussing the ethical issues surrounding the subject, it is most likely 'embryonic stem cells' that are in the firing line. These stem cells are obtained from embryos whilst in early development, usually when the egg has divided to form about 1000 cells. Enter the controversy. It is believed by many that by this stage of development embryos should be treated as a person, to those who believe life begins at conception. Whilst it has advantages medically, it is the issue of ethics which is and will hinder the development most in this field. On the other hand there are adult stem cells. These are the cells where the most exciting research is being developed, and are found (and still being found) in many parts of the body from skeletal muscle and bones, to adipose tissue and hearts. The advantages of these cells over embryonic ones, are that they are already somewhat specialised for the specific areas in which they are found, unlike embryonic cells which are more flexible yet much harder to control.
This should give you the basic foundations to continue your research into one of medicines most exciting and important fields. In the next article I'll be discussing stem cell therapy and it's development in orthopedics.