Interesting Facts About Stem Cells and Stem Cell Therapy: Sources, Types, Uses and More
In recent times, the topic of stem cells has grown in prominence both in the media and among scientists. For the past 15 years, this subject has been the focus of considerable discussion and coverage. Stem cells are vital to many treatments. Moreover, they are unique in that they are the only cells in the body that can be used to generate new cells such as red and white blood cells, bone and muscle cells, as well as to repair damaged tissue. Medical researchers are hopeful about the potential of stem cells to treat other diseases too.
Comprehensive Introduction to Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that works to heal and repair any damage done to cells in the body. It can do this by minimizing inflammation and overseeing the immune system, making stem cell therapy a realistic and possible treatment for many medical dilemmas.
Regenerative medicine, specifically stem cell therapy, is a much-anticipated development in the field of transplantation. This method involves the use of stem cells, or components derived from them, to help the body’s natural healing abilities repair damaged, diseased, and injured tissue. Since this approach relies on cells rather than a limited number of donor organs, it is a promising advancement.
A Brief Historical Review of Stem Cells
In 1868, Ernst Haeckel, a biologist from Germany, was the first to use the term “stem cell” in a scientific context when he described the phenomenon of a fertilized egg developing into a living creature.
Alexander A. Maximow, in 1908 hypothesized the existence of hematopoietic cells in the blood. In 1924, this Russian histologist became the first to identify a single precursor cell within mesenchyme tissue clusters, which were thought to differentiate into different blood cell types. These cells were eventually identified to be mesenchymal stem cells.
An Outlook to Who Discovered Stem Cells
Dr. Georges Mathé, a French oncologist, revolutionized modern medical treatment with his pioneering work in 1959, performing the first bone marrow stem cell transplant on five Yugoslav nuclear plant workers who had endured great harm to their marrow due to an accident. His innovations eventually led to the effective use of stem cell therapy in bone marrow transplants for leukemia.
Dr. E. Donnall Thomas is credited with revolutionizing stem cell therapy derived from bone marrow in the 1950s to 1970s while conducting research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His work demonstrated that new blood cells could be generated by infusing stem cells derived from bone marrow intravenously, which was identified as the primary source of stem cells in the human body.
Since 1995, there have been pioneering efforts to research and use stem cells in Thailand, at the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, part of Mahidol University Medical School. These pioneers of stem cell studies have particularly focused on exploring and treating thalassemia, a prevalent blood condition in the country.
Different Types of Stem Cells: Explained Here
Most people are likely more familiar with stem cell classification based on their source, rather than their function. Healthcare providers may categorize stem cells according to either the source of the cells or the role they play. Some of them are:
- Adult stem cells: Adult stem cells (ASCs) can renew themselves or create new cells to replace dead or damaged tissues found in specialized, differentiated parts of the body. They are often referred to as “somatic stem cells“, which means that they come from non-reproductive cells, unlike egg or sperm cells. Despite offering promise for medical treatments, ASCs are usually rare in their native environment, making research and collection challenging.
Categories of Adult Stem Cells:
- Hematopoietic Stem Cells (Blood Stem Cells)
- Mesenchymal Stem Cells
- Neural Stem Cells
- Epithelial Stem Cells
- Skin Stem Cells
- Embryonic stem cells: Embryonic stem cells used in research today originate from embryos that were not used and are the result of an in vitro fertilization procedure. These cells have been donated to science and are special as they possess the unique ability to form into more than one type of cell, otherwise known as pluripotency.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS): Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are a scientifically created middle ground between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. They are produced through a process of genetic reprogramming, wherein specific embryonic genes are introduced to a somatic cell, such as a skin cell, that causes it to revert to a “stem cell-like” state. These created cells, much like ESCs, are considered pluripotent. First observed in 2007, this method of creating embryonic-like cells is still relatively novel and requires further research before it can be applied in any kind of clinical therapeutic practice.
The Power of Stem Cells: List of Medical Conditions Treated
Stem cell therapy, a rapidly-evolving field of regenerative medicine, has demonstrated promising outcomes in treating various conditions and diseases. The harnessing of diverse types of stem cells, including hematopoietic, mesenchymal and induced pluripotent stem cells, is being explored in clinical trials and treatments.
Below is an outline of conditions and diseases that have been addressed with stem cell therapies:
- Systemic Lupus
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Spinal cord injury
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Liver cirrhosis
- Acute liver failure
- Retinitis Pigmentosa
- Retinal Detachment
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration
- Optic nerve atrophy (ONA)
- Optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Acute kidney injury
- Sports injuries
- Shoulder injuries
- Male infertility
- Female infertility
- Skin burns
- Major skin abrasions
- Ischemic heart disease (myocardial infarction)
- Dilated cardiomyopathy
- Congestive heart failure
- Peripheral arterial disease
Other Medical Aliments
- Diabetic foot ulcers
- Erectile dysfunction
- Burger’s disease
- Critical limb ischemia
- Down syndrome
- Diabetic nephropathy
- Diabetic neuropathy
Due to their vast potential, stem cells have become the source of many exciting possibilities and enthusiastic interest in the fields of science and healthcare. Astonishingly, regenerative stem cells have already proven to generate great hope and expectations as treatments for various medical conditions. Let us explore these dynamic treatments further.
Charting Some Statistics of Stem Cell Therapy
- Since 1928, human fetal stem cells have been used around the world to treat a wide range of ailments. In particular, Italy recorded a type of fetal tissue transplantation to treat cancer and diabetes (marked by high glucose levels in the blood) in a medical journal.
- Annually, around 50,000 stem cell transplants are conducted globally, showing a 10-15% rate of increase each year.
- Worldwide and in India, leukemia (or blood cancer) is the most common childhood cancer to be diagnosed.
- By the year 2010, over 17,000 blood cancer patients had received successful treatment through stem cell transplants.
Collecting cord blood stem cells at the time of birth is essential, since they have tremendous potential for understanding the mechanisms of human development and have the potential to treat many deadly diseases. Therefore, it is much more significant than one may think.
What Locations Contain Stem Cells in the Human Body?
Research and therapies make use of two types of stem cells: autologous cells, which are derived from the patient’s own body; and Allogeneic cells, which originate from a donor other than the recipient.
Our body contains autologous cells that are usually termed based on their stage of development or the body part where they are generally located. The stem cells initially come from the bone marrow but are then released into the bloodstream, allowing them to travel throughout the body. Whenever there is an injury, the damaged cells/tissue nearby release the chemical cytokines, which act as a signal for the progenitor cells to migrate to the affected area and help with healing – a process scientifically referred to as “homing.”
Sources of Autologous Stem Cells: An Overview of Options
Human bone marrow: Stem cells found in bone marrow, known as hematopoietic stem cells, have the ability to differentiate into many types of blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. This makes them a commonly used form of treatment for disorders like leukemia, lymphoma and other blood-related conditions.
Peripheral blood: Peripheral blood stem cells, similar to ones found in bone marrow, are contained in the circulating blood. Through a process known as apheresis, these stem cells can be released into the bloodstream. This type of transplant is often used to treat cancer-like conditions such as leukemia or lymphoma in patients that require a hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Adipose or fat tissue: Fat, commonly known as adipose tissue, is a plentiful source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These cells have the remarkable potential to differentiate into diverse cell types, including bone, cartilage, and fat cells. As a result, they are being intensely studied for various therapeutic applications such as tissue regeneration, wound healing, and autoimmune disease treatment.
Dental pulp: The potential of dental pulp stem cells to differentiate into various cell types, such as neurons, cartilage and bone cells, is currently being investigated for use in regenerative medicine and neurological disorders. These stem cells are present in the soft inner tissue of teeth called dental pulp.
It is essential to take into account the medical condition being treated and the targeted results in determining the source of stem cells. Furthermore, the potential for differentiating and regenerating these stem cells depends on its source, and the techniques for harvesting and isolating these stem cells vary among distinct sources.
Allogeneic stem cells are sourced from another individual, rather than from the patient’s own body (autologous stem cells), meaning they come from a donor who is genetically different from the recipient. Allogeneic stem cell transplantation is often used in medical treatments when the recipient’s own stem cells are not accessible, insufficient, or not suitable for treatment. It can be found in donor’s:
- Bone marrow
- Umbilical blood cord
- Fat tissue
- Peripheral blood
Important Note: The primary challenges and considerations to take into account concerning allogeneic stem cell transplantation are primarily of an immune nature; essentially, compatibility between the donor and recipient must be ensured.
Know the Current Place and Futuristic Approach of Stem Cells
In the area of regenerative medicine, stem cell clinical trials have played – and continue to play – an important role in research and development. These trials evaluate the safety and efficacy of stem cell-based treatments for multiple medical issues.
Stem cell clinical trials have been conducted for numerous conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, autoimmune diseases, orthopedic injuries, and more. These trials often involve both autologous and allogeneic stem cell therapies.
As science progresses, stem cell clinical trials look ahead to remarkable advances. Scientists’ deepening understanding of stem cell behavior and tissue regeneration will allow them to refine protocols, enhance safety profiles and optimize outcomes. Clinical, scientific, and regulatory collaboration will help in rapidly forming trials, for turning laboratory findings into treatments.
Innovations such as gene editing and organoid culture systems will broaden the range of therapeutic options, offering targeted genetic correction and offer personalized disease modelling. Holding the potential to revolutionize modern medicine, these trials present new possibilities and hope to those in need, while pushing medical innovation to its limits.