A stem cell is a special type of cell that can develop into a wide range of other types of cells, from muscle cells to brain cells. Stem cells can also “repair” damaged cells and tissue. Today, the National Institutes of Health from around the world are even researching the possibility of curing paralysis and Alzheimer’s using stem cell therapy.
Stem cells are the progenitor cells of every cell and tissue of the human body. One of its main features is the ability to self-renew and grow. Stem cells are unique because they can also develop into each of more than 200 cell types: blood cells (white and red blood cell types, as well as the endothelium), heart tissue, skin, muscles, brain cells, and more.
Scientists have received many positive results from using stem cell preparations in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, leukemia, and various types of malignant tumors.
When we get injured or sick, our cells become wholly or partially damaged. When this happens, stem cells activate and repair damaged tissues, replacing old and dying cells. Thus, stem cells can both support our health and prevent premature aging.
There are many different types of stem cells. Scientists believe that each organ in our body has a specific type of stem cells. For example, our blood comes from blood stem cells (also known as hematopoietic stem cells). Depending on the source, the basic types of stem cells are:
Embryonic stem cells are derived from 5-day-old human embryos. These cells can differentiate into any type of cell in the body (this ability is called “pluripotency”).
Scientists see great potential for stem cells in tissue replacement therapy, which is the ability to grow new tissue to replace the damaged in case of serious injuries. Another branch of clinical trials is the derivation of pigment epithelial (retina) cells from embryonic stem cells for the treatment of various eye diseases (retinal dystrophy, for example).
The danger of using other organisms’ stem cells (including embryonic), however, is that the recipient’s immune system may consider these cells as alien organisms and destroy them. Also, there is a possibility that the recipient could become infected with viruses and prions (infectious agents that can cause some neurodegenerative diseases).
Clinical studies using embryonic stem cells undergo a special ethical review. In many countries, these studies are limited by law.
Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells found throughout the body, even in children. Since their main purpose is replacing dying cells and regenerating damaged tissue, they have less potential than embryonic stem cells. Today, however, adult stem cells are the most appropriate biomaterial for stem cell therapies.
These cells can primarily be found in the bone marrow, and to a much lesser extent, in the peripheral blood. For example, hematopoietic stem cells (blood-forming stem cells) form blood cells that provide oxygen transport, participate in the coagulation process, and protect against alien agents, bacteria, and viruses that determine the immune response.
Mesenchymal (stromal) stem cells are capable of forming components of human tissues, including cells for bone, cartilage, organs, skeletal muscle, and the nervous system.
The transplantation of embryonic stem cells requires strong immunosuppressive medications to combat the rejection of new cells. And in any case, this puts the patient at risk of developing diseases that may be present in transplanted cells.
Conclusion: Despite ethical concerns, embryonic stem cells have an extremely high potential for the treatment of diseases. However, research should continue on adult stem cells.
With induced pluripotent stem cells, there is no risk of rejection by the immune system (which is very important for any stem cell transplantation); the ethical problems associated with the use of embryonic stem cells are also eliminated.
There is no invasive surgical procedure required to extract the necessary biomaterial; skin fibroblasts, hair follicles, and blood can serve as stem cell sources for further cultivation.
Today, iPSC clinical trials are being conducted to treat Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, and chronic lung diseases. Scientists are also studying their potential for growing nerve stem cells and human kidney cells.
Cord blood contains a large number of blood-forming stem cells which can be used to treat a wide range of diseases in gerontology and rehabilitation medicine. These cells have the greatest “repair” potential: They can differentiate into the cells of those organs or tissues that need to be “repaired”.
The main feature of cord blood stem cells is the possibility of providing biological “insurance” for health – and even life – for the next generation. After a child is born, the parents can keep the umbilical cord blood in a cryobank, providing the child with an added level of life insurance in case of serious illness or injury.
Amniotic cells have shown high therapeutic potential in the fight against immune diseases and inflammatory processes within the human body. For example, they can be used to treat diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Depending on the possibilities of differentiation (or simply tasks that these cells solve), they are conditionally divided into:
In the 1970s, stem cell rejuvenation became popular – these were so-called “injections of youth”, which only Hollywood actors and Soviet party nomenclature could afford.
Read more about the Regenexx procedure.
Today, hematopoietic stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells are used for therapeutic treatment. Hematopoietic stem cells are mostly used for transplantation in the treatment of malignant blood diseases.
Mesenchymal stem cells are widely used in regenerative medicine in cosmetology, gerontology, orthopedics, dentistry, periodontics, neurology, and other fields for:
The patient may feel improvement within the first week after the procedure. After about 45 days, immunity and liver function is restored, and hematopoiesis (the process by which immature precursor cells develop into mature blood cells) improves.