Stem cells have various uses in the medical field today and regardless of the many controversies surrounding stem cell therapy, research and application have continued. This tenaciousness is easily understandable in the face of the giant strides that have been achieved through stem cell therapy. Because of the presence of many diseases for which there is no established cure, stem cell therapy remains a firm candidate for a wide variety of treatment interventions. In addition, there is no turning back from the success that has resulted from current utilization of stem cells.
Somatic Stem Cell Therapy
One of the proven uses of stem cell therapy is showcased in bone marrow transplant for treatment of leukemia. This has a record of success dating back to 1968 when doctors performed a successful bone marrow transplant for the first time. one marrow transplants clearly show that somatic stem cells are found in bone marrow. These somatic cells can produce all the different types of cells that comprise blood. Thus, transplanting bone marrow which contains these cells is now accepted procedure in the treatment of different bone marrow and blood diseases.
Leukemia is one of the diseases where a phase of the treatment includes bone marrow transplant. When a person develops leukemia, his or her white blood cells (leukocytes) grow and function abnormally; they do not do their work of fighting infection. The primary treatment for leukemia is to get rid of the abnormal leukocytes through chemotherapy and radiation. When this is not sufficient, bone marrow transplant is done.
In a bone marrow transplant, stem cells from a healthy donor are introduced into the patient after all the patient’s own leukocytes have been killed. If the transplant is successful, the stem cells will produce new healthy leukocytes to replace the old ones. Another option in cases such as this has been the use of umbilical cord stem cells and peripheral blood stem cells which are obtained from the blood stream.
Present Uses of Stem Cells
In diseases and conditions of the immune system as well as the blood, the most established and widely used treatment is blood stem cell transplantation. The same therapy has also been used to re-establish the blood system after cancer treatments. In some cases, transplantation has also been done when bone, skin and corneal diseases were treated through tissue grafting and this process was dependent on stem cells from the affected organs.
Stem cell transplantation is now an accepted treatment not only for certain cancers but also for sickle cell anemia. In the case of the latter the introduction of stem cells becomes beneficial when these differentiate into white blood cells which fight infection; red blood cells which carry oxygen; and platelets which form clots.
A lot of hope is pinned on bone marrow therapy and this bright outlook has been fueled further by new evidence pointing to the possibility that marrow stem cells can actually be coaxed into becoming the different cells making up the blood. In addition, there are indications from recent research that adult stem cells have more differentiation capabilities than originally deemed possible. Though these adult stem cells will have been subjected to impurities from food and air pollution, it is now believed that many new future treatments can be derived from them.
In 2009, cells taken from human embryonic cells were approved for use in the treatment of acute spinal cord injury. This was a big step because the campaign for such procedure had been waged for more than half a decade but was always stonewalled by ethical considerations. From this, it seems medical science is beginning to take the first of many other steps to truly explore the limitless possible uses of stem cells.