There is much hype surrounding stem cell treatments and its potential benefits in treating, and possibly curing, various debilitating diseases. This has offered new hope for patients suffering with certain chronic diseases that could not be adequately treated with current medical and surgical options. Not only is there the prospect of more effective treatment, but also the possibility of a cure for otherwise incurable ailments. The greatest potential is of disease management in the elderly, who tend to have a reduced healing ability and are more likely to suffer from debilitating chronic diseases.
Stem cells are simply ‘blank’ cells that can be “programmed” to become any cell in the body. This “programming” is largely controlled by hormones and genetics. Due to its remarkable potential to become any cell of choice, stems cells can be utilized to replace lost or damaged tissue in any part of the body. Although this is a rather simplistic explanation of stem cells and its medical uses, it is essentially the central premise by which stem cell treatment works.
Stems cells have to be sourced from certain tissues. Embryos and human placenta are abundant with stems cells that are undifferentiated and can be “programmed” into any type of cell in the body. Even in early life there is an abundance of stems cells in most tissues. These are partially differentiated stem cells meaning that it is only specific for replacing lost or damaged cells in the said organ or area. Stem cell treatment aims to use these “blank” cells by inserting it into the affected area.
There are various categories of diseases that afflict humans. Most chronic diseases are result of degeneration of tissue, defective biochemical processes and reduced healing capability. Health is dependent on several factors but at the most basic level it is dependent on the health of every cell in the human body. When cells in certain tissues or organs are absent, malfunctioning or growing abnormally, the target area and possibly the whole body is disrupted. This is what we term disease.
Modern treatment options for chronic ailments depend on medication or surgery. Medication alters biochemical processes. Surgery either removes diseased tissue or physically repairs defective sites. These measures simply alter a diseased state but do not always restore the body’s natural capability to function independently and effectively. Furthermore medical science does not have effective treatment options for every chronic disease.
Stem cell treatment has essentially changed the “ball game”. By inserting new and healthy cells, the diseases tissue or organ can theoretically return to its fully functional state. Once this is accomplished, there is no further need for medication or subsequent surgery in order to treat and possibly cure the disease. Therefore stem cell treatment may offer a new approach to treating disease, curing it and restoring a person’s quality of life.
Some of these radical new procedures have not been approved by regulatory authorities like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States. It is therefore not available within certain countries and patients may have to consider traveling abroad to countries with less strict regulations for stem cell treatments. Apart from the potential safety issues related to stem cell treatments there are also the legal implications and ethical questions. Sourcing these cells from unused embryos or human placentas has been the topic of much debate in terms of legal and ethical ramifications. Therefore it is important for patients to ensure that by seeking stem cell treatment they are not contravening these aspects. However, it should not detract from the fact that stem cell treatments offer a new and exciting prospect for treating otherwise incurable diseases.