What Exactly is Adult Stem Cell Therapy?
Adult stem cell therapy involves the use of adult stem cells to treat or improve different diseases and conditions. It’s important to understand what an adult stem cell is, in order to understand what therapy involving these cells is all about.
Stem cells themselves are simply cells which have the potential to become other cells. They are not specialized; they can create different types of cells. Some can only create certain cells, such as muscle or heart cells. Others, it’s believed, have the potential to create just about any type of cell desired, if they are subjected to the proper treatment and stimulation.
Adult stem cell therapy involving these cells usually involves cultivating or growing new cells and introducing them into an organ which is in trouble. This could be a weakened heart muscle, a brain being ravaged by degenerative disease, or even a spinal cord which has been damaged in a car accident.Adult stem cells are different than the controversial embryonic stem cells because they are harvested from adults instead of embryos. The discovery of these cells, and how to harvest them effectively, came recently in 2006. This discovery was a huge leap forward for scientists who had been frustrated for years by the controversy surrounding stem cell research. That controversy led to reduced research. With the discovery of viable adult stem cells, research has jumped forward and some truly amazing discoveries have been made in a relatively short amount of time.
What can be Done with Adult Stem Cell Therapy?
Several therapies, procedures and tests are already being carried out with the help of adult stem cells. These range from testing new drugs to growing new organs for transplant.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of just how much adult stem cell therapies can accomplish is the first stem cell-assisted organ transplant. In 2008, a woman was treated in a Spanish hospital. She was suffering from a collapsed trachea, the result of prolonged and severe tuberculosis.
A donor trachea was harvested from an organ donor. It was then stripped of all but its basic structure. Scientists took away all cells and tissues which were likely to cause rejection of the new organ. They were essentially left with a piece of “generic” cartilage.
The woman’s own stem cells were harvested from her bone marrow, and these cells were implanted into the trachea. The cells realized where they were and grew new trachea cells. In a mere four days, the new trachea was ready for implant. Due to the new tissue being grown from the patient’s own cells, no harsh anti-rejection drugs were needed. Four months later, the woman was reported to be on her way to good health, and showing no signs of rejecting the new trachea.
Although growing new organs is exciting enough, it’s hardly the end of adult stem cell therapy. One form of adult stem cell therapy already underway is the testing of cancer drugs. Once stem cells have been stimulated to produce cancer cells, anti-cancer and anti-tumor drugs can be tested on those cells to determine their effectiveness.
Other lines of research will undoubtedly lead to new forms of therapy in the field of drug testing. However, currently scientists are hard at work determining how to replicate a wide variety of situations to ensure that tests performed on cells, would be as accurate as those performed on lab animals and human subjects.
Adult stem cell therapy can be used to treat many different types of disease. They are already being used to treat many forms of cancer, as well as degenerative diseases. A good example is Parkinson’s disease. This disease has (and still does, to a point) confounded scientists for years. It attacks the brain and causes many symptoms, the most widely known includes shaking, trembling and uncontrollable movements.
In one case study, a man allowed doctors to remove a small portion of his brain tissue and harvest stem cells from it. Those cells were allowed to grow in a lab setting. They created new brain cells, which were then injected back into the man’s brain. Remarkably, the man reported (and scientists documented) a significant decrease in his symptoms. Since Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, the man’s symptoms are likely to return. However, there is no foreseeable reason why a repeat of the same procedure can’t be performed as many times as necessary to maintain the man’s quality of life.
As you can see, the far-reaching possibilities of adult stem cell research are extremely exciting. They represent a possible treatment and cure for many diseases which we’ve thought of for years as “incurable” or “untreatable.” The amount of saved lives, and drastically improved ones, is a remarkable thing to think about. Discovering a way to harvest stem cells without destroying an embryo is already looked upon as one of the most important discoveries in recent medical history since it has allowed adult stem cell therapy and research to move forward without the controversy which embryonic stem cells presented.