Stem cell potential has energized the medical community. Stem cell science can revolutionize drug testing efficiency and tissue generation. Stem cell potential is being realized in certain communities already, while other groups that could benefit must be patient while more research is conducted. While the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine is still relatively young, it is moving forward with remarkable speed.
One of the most common questions asked about stem cells is what diseases can they treat or will they be able to treat? The exciting answer to this question is that there is no limit to the types of diseases and conditions that could be treated from stem cell research. Scientists are able to study ALL cell types via embryonic stem cells and iPSCs giving them the tools to make breakthroughs in all categories of disease.
One of the most talked about areas for stem cell potential are the cell-based therapies that could provide replacement cells and tissues for a myriad of common diseases such as: heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, macular degeneration, spinal cord injuries, stroke, burns, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. The number of humans stem cell technology could impact for the better is promising.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) offers insights into the stem cell potential for organ transplants. Although we are not there yet, the NIH evisions a time in the near future when combined medical technologies can offer the ability to grow organs and tissues needed for humans. Regenerative medicine can replace/regenerate human cells, tissue or organs to institute normal function. The scope of regenerative medicine and stem cell potential focuses on repair, replacement/regeneration of cells, tissues, or organs to mend impaired function from: congenital defects, diseases, trauma, and aging. Regenerative medicine is a field dedicated to discovering how they can leverage the power of soluble molecules, gene therapy, stem cell transplantation, tissue engineering, and the reprogramming of cell and tissue types to restore normal function.
Historically, it has been difficult to study diseased cells in detail, but stem cells–either harboring the diseased gene or a stem cell engineered to carry the diseased gene can allow scientists to the model disease mechanisms in a laboratory setting and learn what happens. Understanding how a disease develops can lead to much-needed prevention and treatment models for multiple conditions. Stem cell research allows scientists to observe how cells divide and specialize for brain, heart, bone, skin and other cell groups. By studying stem cells, scientists can learn the mechanisms behind cell replication and differentiation during development. Serious medical conditions–such as cancer and birth defects–are triggered from abnormal cell division and differentiation.
Stem cell lines offer scientists the ability to generate large quantities of specialized cells that can be use to test out the safety and effectiveness of new medications. This would not only reduce the need for animal testing, but it would also increase the speed at which testing could occur, and improve the accuracy of results. To predict drug toxicity, researchers can monitor the way human embryonic stem cells react to the drug-candidate compound. Nobel Prize winner for Stem Cell Research, Shinya Yamanaka, said: “I believe the biggest impact to date of iPS cell technology is not regenerative medicine, but in making disease models, drug discovery, and toxicology testing […] Those somatic cells are very useful to recapitulate disease models based on the patient’s phenotype and to perform drug screening.”
Stem cells that reside in umbilical cord blood are already being used in transplant medicine to regenerate healthy blood and help with immune system function. Cord blood stem cells have already been used in more than 35,000 transplants worldwide to help regenerate healthy blood and immune systems, like in a bone marrow transplant. However, cord blood stem cells offer benefits over bone marrow stem cells in transplant. Cord blood stem cells have been used for 20 years to help treat 80 different kinds of diseases and disorders.