Diseases and Conditions That Can Be Treated with Stem Cells
Stem cell treatment may still be in its exploratory phase but it has been found that it can have a positive effect on those suffering with diseases and chronic conditions.
Research has shown (and proven) that the use of stem cells can have a tremendous positive effect within the medical field. They can be used to treat a variety of diseases and conditions, some chronic, and improve and perhaps prolong the lives of many.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells can be defined as the body’s “raw materials”. They are cells that are responsible for the creation of all other cells. When stem cells divide, they create what are known as “daughter cells”. The daughter cells will either become new stem cells or specialised cells with a specific purpose, such as blood cells or brain cells, to name but a very few.
Stem cells can be derived from:
Embryonic stem cells:
Embryonic cells come from embryos that are three to five days old. At this stage of development, an embryo is called a blastocyst and contains about 150 cells. They can divide into more stem cells or can become any type of cell in the body. Due to their versatility, embryonic stem cells can be used to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs.
Adult stem cells:
Adult stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissue, such as bone marrow (used to treat leukemia, amongst other things). Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability. However, new studies suggest that adult stem cells may be able to create various types of cells. For example, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells.
Additionally, scientists have been able to “reprogramme” adult stem cells to perform like embryonic stem cells. The technique is referred to as genetic reprogramming and helps prevent the immune system from rejecting the introduction of the new stem cells. This new exploration, however, still has some ways to go and it is unknown if altered adult cells will cause adverse effects in humans.
Perinatal stem cells:
Perinatal stem cells are found in amniotic fluid, as well as umbilical cord blood and have the ability to change into specialised cells. Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds and protects the foetus in the womb.
How can stem cells be used to treat diseases and conditions?
Researchers hope stem cell studies can help in the following ways:
- By increasing the understanding of how diseases occur and by observing how stem cells develop in bones, heart muscle, nerves, and other organs and tissue.
- Using them to generate healthy cells in order to replace cells affected by disease or degeneration.
- Stem cells may have the potential to grow into new tissue for use in transplants and regenerative medicine.
- To test medicine for safety and effectiveness. Researchers can use some types of stem cells in trials for new drugs before distribution.
When talking about stem cells treating disease, we often think of stem cell transplants. In stem cell transplants, stem cells are first specialised into the chosen or appropriate adult cell type.
But we also think of stem cell therapy…
What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cell therapy – sometimes referred to as regenerative medicine – promotes the repair of diseased, dysfunctional, or injured tissue using stem cells. Researchers grow the stem cells in a lab, which are then altered to become specific types of cells, such as brain cells, blood cells, and nerve cells.
Specialised cells can be transplanted into a recipient, who has, for example, heart disease.
Diseases and conditions that can be treated with stem cells
Stem cells can be used to repair, treat, or relieve a number of physical ailments. They can be used to replace neurons damaged by spinal cord injuries, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological problems. They can also be used to produce insulin that can treat diabetes or promote cartilage growth to repair damage caused by arthritis. Studying stem cell development can give researchers and scientists insight into how the heart muscle cells work and provide clues as to how it could repair itself after an attack.
Some of the other diseases and conditions that stem cells can lend a helping hand to include:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Kidney disease
- Brain tumors
- Hearing loss
- Skin conditions
Stem cells, their development, and uses are an ongoing study and exploration. Over the years to come, researchers and scientists will uncover more about them and how they can be incorporated into new therapies to treat and repair dysfunction within the human body.
The lenmed Group is a world-class chain of Private Hospitals that brings quality healthcare to communities across Southern Africa.
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.