Top 10 Highlights
Embryonic stems cells are a controversial topic and that is understandable. It’s certainly not a topic we propose making a list about.
Adult stem cells, or somatic stem cells as they are sometimes called, are a different kettle of fish and certainly list-worthy. Just to be clear, adult stem cells have nothing to do with embryos and no life is lost by obtaining them.
Adult stem cells are ‘undifferentiated cells’, which essentially means they don’t have a specific purpose. When required they will take on the characteristics of the specialized cells in a particular area of the body through the process of division and multiplication. Not only that, adult stem cells can create specialized daughter cells that take on the characteristics of different types of target cells, not just one type as is the case with normal cells.
For example, hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow. They produce all the different sorts of specialized blood cells that are needed by the body. As the hematopoietic stem cells divide the daughter cells take on the shape and capabilities of a particular type of blood cell.
Adult stem cells are responsible for the renewal and regeneration that occurs constantly throughout our body, in our cells, our tissues and all our organs.
However it’s apparently quite tough to get enough of these cells to make effective treatments. That’s the challenge for researchers, but the potential use of these cells is pretty amazing.
NOTE. The information we have used for this list is freely available and is posted here for the interest of lay people only. It should not be used to self-diagnose. We think that’s a dangerous practice, particularly if you don’t seek professional advice as well.
10. Systemic Scleroderma
Systemic scleroderma is a relatively rare disease compared to everything else on this list, but the story of Tony Underhill’s encounter with it deserves retelling. For those everywhere else with the disease we can only hope that this stem cell research becomes commonplace everywhere.
9. Treating Blood Diseases
This is not a potential benefit, it’s an existing benefit; hematopoietic stem cells have been used for many years to help treat leukaemia, lymphoma and other blood and bone related cancers and disorders.
There are various bone marrow donor programs around the world and plenty of research going on to advance these treatments.
There you go, we’ve broken the list at the first hurdle, but thought it interesting to see that stem cell treatments are not just pie in the sky or something for our kids to benefit from.
A very good overview of leukaemia.
Diabetes type 1 is a disease where insulin producing cells have been destroyed by the immune cells of the body. Insulin controls blood sugar levels and without that control we die. So people with diabetes type 1 have to inject themselves with insulin on a daily and intra-daily basis in order to survive.
Eyelets are the structures in the body that contain insulin producing cells and if these are transplanted into a person with diabetes they can be an effective treatment for the disease. However eyelets are hard to come by.
Using stem cells to create the cells that manufacture the insulin the body needs would be have incredible benefits for millions of people around the world.
Diabetes type 1 can’t be treated with stem cells yet, but hopefully this will change. This video gives us great insight into the lives of type 1 sufferers.
7. Treating Burns
Stem cell therapy in the treatment of major burns has been shown to increase the quality of healing significantly, particularly when used in conjunction with artificial skin substitutes.
Normal scarring from major burns means that the effected area lacks many of the benefits of normal skin and the ongoing impact of scarring can be severe.
As with all treatments involving stem cells at the moment, the supply of suitable stem cells is constrained by the ethical and practical aspects of producing them, however recent advances could change this. For people with burns this can only be a great thing.
Very, very good, informative video.
6. Understanding and Treating Alzheimers
Just in the last six weeks scientists have been able to create a stem cell model of familial Alzheimer’s disease. Essentially recreate the disease in a petri dish using stem cells. They have been able to identify fourteen genes that may be implicated in the onset of Alzheimer’s and one gene specifically that shows that inflammation may have a big role in the disease.
In this case the benefits of stem cells are not coming from the direct application of stem cells in treatments, although that too may come in time, but by using the unique characteristics of stem cells to conduct research that couldn’t be done in any other way.
Coming up with a complete understanding and treatment for Alzheimer’s would be an absolutely incredible breakthrough.
A great update on where things are at with Alzheimer’s.
5. Understanding Disease Genetics
If we (and I use the word ‘we’ collectively because it’s sure not going to be me doing this research) can continue to develop a molecular and cellular understanding of stem cells, their genetics and how they create the specialized cells of the body, it is believed that this will open the way to finding therapies for diseases that are caused, or heavily influenced, by a persons genetic make up.
We already have the human genome. Add a dash of stem cell knowledge and you just don’t know what might happen. If the brainy researchers in our world (not me remember) can come up with ways of mitigating or curing genetically borne disease that would have benefits that can hardly be imagined.
The real deal.
4. Genetic Anti-ageing
I’m not sure why this isn’t in first place. I guess saving people who are actually sick seems more important. Anyway, as our body ages, the stem cells that regenerate our muscles start to lose their ability to regenerate and renew the muscles like they do when they’re young.
Using new stems cells to continue the functions carried out by the existing, ageing stem cells, looks like it might be possible based on research released in the last week or so.
While muscles are only one component of our body, they are an important part in terms of mobility and other quality of life factors. The implications of this research hardly needs stating. And if they can do it for muscles, what about the skin and other organs of the body? Hmm, now that’s interesting.
Mention the words ‘anti ageing’ and the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries goes into meltdown. This is an informative video and presents the topic of stem cells well until about the 4 minute mark.
It is estimated that more than seven million people in the US are stroke survivors and somewhere in the order of two million people in China survive strokes each year. That’s just two countries. Stoke sufferers very often have some type of disability as a result of the stroke including paralysis in the limbs that can be permanent.
Research is being done to treat paralysis from ischemic stroke through the use of spinal cord stem cells. It’s early days, but the potential improvement in quality of life and functional capabilities for stroke sufferers all over the world is enormous.
A great story of a stroke survivor.
2. Spinal Cord Regeneration
Stem cells can potentially regenerate spinal cord nerve cells and tissues. Neuralstem Inc. is running FDA-approved trials using stem cells to treat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. They are hoping that stem cells transplanted into the spine will graft permanently, rebuild the patient’s motor neuron circuitry and protect the patient from ‘further ravages of the disease’.
Amazing stuff and it’s going on right now.
A great TED talk on spinal cord research. Particularly good if you can interpret strong French accents.
1. Cardiovascular Disease
Using stem cells for the regenerative treatment of damage suffered from cardiovascular disease and heart attacks is a big area of research. The damage suffered by the heart muscle and/or blood vessels as a byproduct of disease or myocardial infarction can be severe. As well as reducing the likelihood of recurrences of the problem in future, regenerative stem cell therapy can improve the ongoing quality of life of people with cardiovascular disease.
This is one of the biggest killers in the modern world and the potential benefits in terms of the number of lives saved and the quality of life improvements for everyone affected is enormous.
The low down on our heart.
Late in January, Nature, an international science journal, published papers showing that researchers have found a new way of creating iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells. Pluripotent stem cells are embryonic stem cells that have been artificially induced, or created, from adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are different to adult stem cells in that they can produce any other type of cell in the body. Adult stem cells can only produce a sub-set of the human body’s cells.
Although it’s early stages for this new technique, if we are able to create embryonic stem cells from adult stem cells easily, reliably and cheaply, the implications for all the potential benefits of stem cells are enormous.
See the article in Nature here.
A recent report shows that the investment in stem cell research globally is growing at more than twice the rate of other types of research and around half of the research is related to regenerative medicine.
Regenerative medicine. The phrase of the future perhaps.