Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to divide and replicate other cells, and thus essentially act as a renovation system in the body. Under laboratory conditions, stem cells can be compelled to become other kinds of cells such as tissue or organs, highlighting their potential for treating terminal diseases and devastating injuries. However, research into the efficacy of stem cell treatment protocols was hampered until recently by the controversy over using human embryonic stem cells.
The initial method of obtaining stem cells was harvesting them from human embryos, which created enormous controversy. Spurred on to some extent by ethical debate, scientists in 2006 unveiled a protocol by which adult cells could be “‘reprogrammed’ genetically to assume a stem cell-like state*.” Called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), disease modeling and drug efficacy are potential research uses for this new class of cells.
Researchers are confident that iPSCs will revolutionize transplantation protocols, treatment for spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, cancer protocols and the remediation of other kinds of genetic defects. Scientists in Japan have produced stem cells by stressing adult cells in an acid bath or low-oxygen environment, causing “some of the cells [to lose] their ‘blood identity’ and revert… to a state equivalent to an embryonic stem cell**.” The benefits of this technology are myriad, but one significant advantage is that it eliminates the controversy over using embryonic cells.
There are currently a number of stem cell therapies currently practiced, including transplantation of bone marrow tissue to treat lymphoma, aplastic anemia and leukemia. Cord blood is often harvested from the umbilicus cord at birth and frozen in case of future illness. Cord blood is rich in stem cells and treatment of that infant or their siblings can occur without the worry of rejection or the long agonizing process of finding a donor. Allegedly, supplements made from one’s own umbilicus cord is one of the most healthy supplements available to man. Alternatively, neutral stem cell supplements are now becoming mainstream as part of super nutrition diets.
There are over 80 diseases that respond to stem cell treatment, including many cancers and a variety of blood disorders. Currently, researcher is at the clinical stage of examining the efficacy of stem cells for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy and rheumatoid arthritis.
Needless to say, stem cells are playing a critical role in the treatment of injury and disease. With advances in the source of harvest for stem cells and the elimination of controversy, stem cell research and resulting technologies have the potential to transform the treatment of many untreatable genetic and injury induced problems.