It is the firm belief of many medical researchers that stem cell therapy will radically change the fate of many who are suffering from diseases which continue to elude cure today. They share the hope of many that Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac failure, neurological disorders, Type 1 diabetes mellitus and even cancer will no longer have the grim prognosis that they do today. The reason for their optimism lies in the successful application of this therapy in various cases.
There are quite a few recorded successes in the use of stem cells. One of the earliest successful cases took place in 1988 when a five year old boy suffering from Franconi’s disease was given stem cells from his newly born sister. After this, research and application of the therapy continued and today, it is considered the standard of care for several blood disorders. Among these would be leukemia and lymphoma. It is also a highly accepted intervention for post chemotherapy recovery when the cells within the bone marrow have been incidentally destroyed.
Future Applications of Stem Cell Therapy
• Arthritis or degenerative joint disease occurs when the cartilage protecting joints wastes away. At present, such deterioration is irreversible but stem cell therapy could provide a radical remedy.
• In Type 1 Diabetes the pancreatic cells that make insulin are damaged so that the patient with this disease is burdened with constantly testing blood sugar levels and injecting insulin regularly. Stem cells present the possibility that the damaged pancreatic cells could be repaired or that new ones could come from stem cell transplantation. At present the studies being conducted involve human embryonic stem cells being transplanted on mice and results have been encouraging; the stem cells have successfully differentiated into insulin-producing, blood sugar-regulating cells.
• Heart disease is the number one cause of death In the USA and research is being undertaken to find out if injecting stem cells into the heart will help regenerate damaged cardiac muscles. At present studies have shown optimistic results but so far test subjects have been limited to rodents.
• Fairly recently, the Food and Drug Administration of the USA approved the use of embryonic stem cells in human beings as treatment for spinal cord injury. The main purpose of the treatments at this point is to ascertain the safety of such intervention but it is hoped that some test subjects will regain some sensation and some control over lower extremities.
• Alzheimer’s disease is another illness where embryonic stem cells may provide significant progress. This disease, marked by memory loss, cognitive decline and behavioral problems is caused by the progressive degeneration of brain cells. However, even at this stage of research there are some experts who express doubts that stem cells will lead to a cure.
• Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, stiffness and speech impairment. So far tests have been made on rodents exhibiting similar symptoms and results show that the introduction of embryonic stem cells has improved the motor function of test subjects.
• Using human embryonic stem cells, researchers created transplantable lung sources which have the potential to repair damaged lung tissues. So far, studies using mice with acute lung injury have proved fruitful so there is a lot of optimism regarding the future use of stem cells for this purpose in humans.
• Lou Gehrig’s disease, more popularly referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a debilitating disease which causes progressive and crippling damage to the brain and spinal cord neurons that control muscles. Prognosis is poor with patients dying in three to five years after diagnosis. Scientists are still studying ways to coax stem cells to differentiate into neurons.
The use of stem cells to replace or repair damaged cells sounds like the answer to countless medical conditions that have not been addressed satisfactorily by other means. There is no doubt that people all over the world are keeping track of when the treatments can go beyond the laboratory and into hospitals where they can serve the most number of people.