The use of stem cells in medical science presents an opportunity for treatment that is not matched by any other therapeutic agent. Following decades of extensive research, stem cells have been popularly used to cure conditions such as sickle cell disease and even HIV.
Patients may need to undergo surgery or use lifelong medications for chronic diseases that they suffer from, like diabetes or arthritis. Stem cell treatment provides an alternative avenue for these conditions that provides an increased quality of life, especially where they might have felt there’s no hope.
This article will discuss stem cells and their therapeutic potential. It will also talk about six medical conditions that this approach can be used to treat.
What are stem cells?
There are many different kinds of cells in the body. For instance, we have muscle, bone, skin, fat, and other kinds of cells. Before these cells become what they are, they start off as undifferentiated cells. That is to say, a cell that is yet to start developing towards its final form. These undifferentiated cells are stem cells.
What are the types of stem cells?
There are three major types of stem cells that have been researched significantly, defined by the stage of a human life during which they are seen. These are the embryonic stem cells, taken from fertilized embryos; fetal stem cells, typically taken from the umbilical cord and other fetal tissues; and adult stem cells, harvested at any stage of life since birth.
Adult stem cells come in many forms, though the most important two of which are hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). The latter has the potential to be used for therapy in a wider range of scenarios, which is why they are the focus.
Therapeutic potential of stem cells
For as many as four decades, stem cells have been seen as a promising treatment opportunity for patients with degenerative, genetic, and congenital conditions. The therapeutic potential of these cells is based on their unique properties:
- Stem cells are undifferentiated.
- They can differentiate into a variety of cell types.
- These cells are able to continue dividing for a long time.
Using these properties, when stem cells are introduced into the body, they find their way to damaged tissue or cells. They are then able to differentiate into the appropriate kind of cell, enabling them to repair the affected parts of the body. This is why it is called regenerative medicine. Stem cells have also been shown to release chemicals that can improve wound healing and reduce inflammation.
Research confirmed that this type of treatment is not a false hope, with thousands of patients having benefitted, and clinical trials backs that up. For instance, with adult autism and stem cells for treatment, some patients and caregivers notice significant improvements in the behavior of the patient.
What diseases can be treated with stem cells?
The conditions below are some of the most common ones that these kinds of cells can be used for. However, note that patients are all different and results will vary between them. While some might notice distinct changes nearly a week after administration, others may take longer, or may not even see any changes at all.
Cancer is one of the most notorious diseases of our current time. It can affect essentially any part of the human body, and in certain locations, it can be a very difficult disease to treat. The treatment process alone can take a significant toll on anybody.
It’s the mental and physical weight that cancer has on its victims that makes a potential cure such an exciting prospect for most people.
Regenerative medicine is particularly effective for cancers that originate from the bone marrow, commonly known as blood cancers, such as leukemia and multiple myeloma. However, in other cases, stem cells are also useful for the treatment of cancer as healthy stem cells can be used to replace those damaged by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative conditions are a family of diseases whose cure has been searched for years. Conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, aphasia, autism, and multiple sclerosis among others, have no definitive cure, though they can be managed. The combination of stem cells and autism research is one avenue through which neurological conditions have been examined for treatment promise.
Parkinson’s disease is a well-studied condition. In animal studies performed on mice, there was seen to be a substantial improvement in motor function. Similar studies have been performed which makes stem cells a proper possibility for humans.
Stem cell therapy has shown significant efficacy for patients with heart conditions. The American Heart Association, in 2021, reported that treatment with stem cells was able to reduce the risk of heart disease-related death by 80% in vulnerable patients.
Although many may consider having a cardiovascular issue to foretell an eventual death due to a complication of that issue, stem cell treatment greatly reduces the risk.
When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, the expectation is that it will be managed lifelong, with insulin injections or oral medication, alongside lifestyle modifications.
Stem cell treatment provides a promising new avenue for individuals diagnosed with this condition. As many as nearly 60% of patients who received stem cells in a study showed insulin independence for over a year.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that is notoriously not well understood. As a result, the condition can be difficult to treat. There is no known cure and management focuses on alleviating the symptoms and pain that patients may feel.
There is yet to be extensive research on the use of stem cells for the treatment of this condition, however, there is evidence of benefit. Musculoskeletal pain, such as that caused by this disease, responds positively to treatment with mesenchymal stem cells.
Arthritis is a condition seen as people get older. It is caused by the layer of cartilage in the joint space wearing down, which causes pain and stiffness. It is usually treated symptomatically, or with surgery to replace joints with prosthetics.
It is understandable that not all patients will want to have to use these options. This makes it pleasing to realize that stem cell therapy has been shown to relieve pain in patients at various points following treatment, including up to 12 months after.
The promising versatility of stem cells
Stem cells may start off as undifferentiated cells, but they have the potential to treat diseases in essentially every part of the body. This even includes conditions that are typically difficult to treat, such as autism, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.
If you’re suffering from a condition that can potentially be treated with stem cells, you can start by reaching out to an experienced stem cell therapy center. This kind of treatment may provide an opportunity for better health and a higher quality of life.