Cells with the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and to give rise to specialized cells are referred to as Stem Cells. These have an enormous potential in health and medical research but to fully harness this potential, scientists are studying how stem cells transform, or differentiate, into the diverse range of specialized cells that make humans what they are today.
Stem cells are important for living organisms for many reasons. In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lungs, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, discrete populations of adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease.
Given their unique regenerative abilities, stem cells offer new potentials for treating diseases such as diabetes, and heart disease. However, much work remains to be done in the laboratory and the clinic to understand how to use these cells for cell-based therapies to treat disease. There are a few researches which have however indicated the benefits of Stem Cells, WF team brings you an insight into some of these studies.
- Macular Degeneration can be reverted at Early Stage: An injection of stem cells into the eye may soon slow or reverse the effects of early-stage age-related macular degeneration, according to new research from scientists at Cedars-Sinai. This study shows that vision can be preserved after a single injection of adult-derived human cells into a rat model with age-related macular degeneration according to Shaomei Wang, MD, PhD, lead author of the study published in the journal STEM CELLS and a research scientist in the Eye Program at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a devastating disease that can lead to severe vision impairment and blindness. Vision loss in AMD usually becomes visible after age 55.
- Repairing Damage to Your Nervous System: There is exciting progress being made through innovative research related to the potential of many types of stem cells both for slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system. The adult stem cells used to treat MS at the Stem Cell Institute are called allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells. They are harvested from human umbilical cords donated after normal, healthy births. Each mother is tested for infectious diseases and has her medical history screened. Proper consent is received from each family prior to donation. Before they are approved for use in treatment all umbilical cord-derived stem cells are screened for infectious diseases to International Blood Bank Standards.
- A Treatment Option for Leukemia: It is a term used to describe many different kinds of cancers of the blood. A stem cell transplant is a process that involves replacing blood-forming cells called stem cells that have been damaged as a result of high doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. High dose therapies are sometimes used because they give some people a better chance of cure or long-term control of their disease. Sometimes stem cells need to be replaced because they are diseased (for example in leukaemia) or defective (for example in aplastic anaemia).
- Managing type 1—aka juvenile onset—Diabetes: Swedish researchers have reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that a vaccine appeared to stall the loss of beta cell function when given to patients within six months of diagnosis, but not when treatment was delayed. However, it didn’t eliminate or even reduce their need for regular doses of insulin. While the vaccine showed only a minor effect, however it may hold promise for children, because it didn’t have serious side effects associated with other therapies.
- Add a boost to Your Heart Muscle: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is one of the main types of heart muscle disease which can lead to an enlarged heart. By using stem cells, researchers were able to work out how a mutation in the ALPK3 gene causes an enlarged heart. The researchers discovered that heart muscle cells (called cardiomyocytes) with changes in ALPK3 are very poor at “talking” to their neighbouring cells adversely affecting the hearts ability to beat. The heart beat is disorganized and the heart muscle cannot generate enough force. This results in the heart being overworked and the muscle becoming enlarged. Associate Professor Paul Lockhart, a genetics expert and joint lead author of the study says “Modern genetic methods are rapidly improving our ability to identify the genes that cause disease. In only about 50 per cent of cases is the genetic cause of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy known. This work identifies a new gene and by studying it we hope to identify other genes that cause the disease. Identifying these genes provides important information for the family and the care of the patient.” The results of this study will have a direct and immediate impact on diagnostic, counselling and clinical services offered to affected children and families. The identification and study of genes that cause disease improves our understanding of heart muscle function. Stem cell drive cardiomyocytes – the red sections make the cell contract, the blue is the cell nucleus which has the entire DNA.
In theory, there’s no limit to the types of diseases that can be treated with stem cell research. Researches are on to find answer.