The world of medicine is in a constant state of progression. Each decade brings its fair share of innovative therapies aimed at improving treatment protocols and patients’ outcomes. Stem cell therapy is a fairly new treatment regimen that dates back to the early 80s and has evolved in leaps and bounds over the years.
What are Stem Cells?
The human body is an aggregate of billions of cells. Before these cells transform into a specific cell type, they must develop from an origin – stem cells. Think of stem cells as the precursor to the body’s mature cells.
Stem cells are commonly specified by two capacities, namely, their ability to self-renew and their ability to differentiate into multiple cell types. Embryonic stem cells are capable of giving rise to every form of specialized cell type in organisms and are therefore termed as pluripotent. Adult stem cells, however, can generate cell types of a particular tissue and produce mature cells specific to the tissue of their origin.
The History of Stem Cell Therapy
The discovery on how to harvest stem cells dates back to 1981 when scientists first derived embryonic stem cells from mouse embryos. Fast-forward to 1998, and the 17-year study of mouse stem cells paved the way on how to extract and grow human stem cells from human embryos. In 2006, scientists identified unique conditions that could allow a few specialized adult cells to be genetically reprogrammed and assume an embryonic stem-cell state, giving rise to the term “induced pluripotent stem cells”.
Stem Cell Use in Leukemia Patients
Stem cells carry great potential in helping formulate treatments for a range of illnesses and injuries. Their promise is largely evident in the use of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) to treat blood-related illnesses, most notably leukemia. The main reason HSCs have been so successful lies in their ability to differentiate into various types of blood cells.
HSCs are quite rare, with fewer than one HSC per 50,000 bone marrow cells. The number of HSCs is kept under strict control via an intricate balance of cell apoptosis, division, and differentiation. Whenever the immune system isn’t under a pathogenic threat, most HSCs remain latent. Whenever the demand for hematopoiesis surges, say during an infection or following chemotherapy, HSCs exhibit an immense proliferation capacity.
To understand and approve the therapeutic capacity of HSCs, scientists conducted in vivo experiments on mice. The mice were first subjected to a lethal dose of irradiation and subsequently injected with isolated HSCs. The injected stem cells conferred survival to the mice by repopulating all the blood cell types.
How It Works
For leukemia patients or people suffering from bone marrow cancer, stem cell therapy offers some hope of a full recovery. The first phase of treatment involves getting rid of the cancerous cells using either chemotherapy or radiotherapy (sometimes both). Next, the eliminated cells are replaced with HSCs from a healthy donor. The donor’s cells manufacture new blood cells and also attack residual cancerous cells in the patient’s body, minimizing the risk of a relapse.
The Risks Involved
Stem cell therapy isn’t infallible. In about 30 to 60 percent of cases, the donor’s cells elicit an immune response from the recipient’s other healthy tissues. Organs such as the intestine, skin, and liver are particularly hard-hit. In roughly 50 percent of cases, the graft-versus-host responses result in fatalities. Before the treatment is carried out, doctors usually administer immune-suppressing drugs to increase the success of the procedure.
Other Applicable Diseases
Stem Cell Therapy for Diabetes Patients
Type 1 diabetes mellitus, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes is classified as an organ-specific autoimmune disease and attacks the pancrease’s beta cells. In patients suffering from type 1 diabetes, the immune system produces auto-antibodies that target the beta cells. The aim of stem cell therapy in managing type 1 diabetes is to replace damaged beta cells with healthy pancreatic cells from a healthy patient.
The Issues Involved
While the therapy has proven effective at managing the condition, it’s a long cry from a panacea. Stem cell therapy only replaces the destroyed beta cells, it doesn’t stop the immune system from actively and continuously destroying more. Patients must still take immune-suppressants to prevent further destruction of the new beta cells.
Stem Cell Therapy for Autism
Autism covers a broad spectrum of disorders marked by anomalies in social interactions and communication. Autism in children is typically attributed to a variety of factors, including reduced oxygenation in specific parts in the brain, genetic mutations, exposure to environmental toxins, or metabolic imbalances.
Stem cell therapy for autistic patients typically involves using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) harvested from a human umbilical cord. The administration of MSCs has been shown to significantly lower the inflammatory responses associated with autism, alleviating the symptoms of autism. MSCs are an ideal choice for treatment because they allow for uniform doses, and they don’t require stem cell collection from an actual patient.
Outcomes for Autistic Patients
Since the recipient’s immune system is unable to perceive MSCs as foreign, the chances of rejection are nil. According to the Stem Cell Institute, out of the thousands of patients who’ve received human umbilical cord tissue (HUCT) stem cells, there hasn’t been a single case of rejection. The MSCs differentiate more efficiently and are, therefore, more effective at treating autistic patients.
Treatment usually involves four infusions of HUCT stem cells administered intravenously. Regular follow-ups are then conducted to monitor the patient. Check-ups are typically conducted after a month, three months, six months, and twelve months to ensure the safe progress of the patient.
In a Nutshell
Stem cell therapy is a groundbreaking technique in treating some of today’s non-conventional illnesses and conditions. Given the progress that’s already been achieved over the last three decades, the future holds a lot of promise. Granted, experts still have a couple of things to iron out but stem cell therapy is proving its salt. Who knows, in a few decades, certain diseases and conditions might be rendered obsolete by this landmark therapy. Time will tell.
Interested in stem cell therapy? Contact us today!