Why is Adult Stem Cell Research Important?
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Benefits of Adult Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research is complicated and rapidly changing. Staying informed is crucial not just due to the promise these cells hold, but also due to the ethical dangers associated. Once developed and controlled, stem cells could make drugs seem as antiquated as the horse and buggy. Today’s medicine generally tries to support or treat injured tissues and organs, but stem cells may someday simply replace them. Instead of giving insulin to diabetics why not give them cells that can produce insulin in their body as needed? Some researchers say stem cells may have the wonder-working potential for reversing heart disease, diabetes, strokes and spinal-cord injury. Stem cell research could even lead to cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While much progress has been made in the last few years, much is still experimental.
Potential therapeutic uses of stem cells are for cures in the areas of diabetes, brain diseases like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and even cancer treatments. Stem cell research may also be helpful in improving livestock and other animal life. Adult stem cell therapies are routinely used to treat disease today using umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants, peripheral blood stem cells and bone marrow stem cell transplants, which is probably the most well known therapy.
Bone marrow stem cells are used in treating leukemia and other types of cancer and blood diseases. Leukemia results when white blood cells made in bone marrow begin to grow and function abnormally. These abnormal cells cannot fight infections and they interfere with the functions of other organs. Successful treatment for leukemia depends on getting rid of the abnormal cells, allowing the healthy ones to grow in their place. One way to do this is through chemotherapy which uses potent drugs to kill off abnormal cells. When chemo can’t solve the problem, doctors may turn to bone marrow transplants. The patient's bone marrow stems cells are replaced with those from a healthy, matching donor. To do this one uses chemo and radiation to first kill off the abnormal cells. Then the donor's healthy stem cells are introduced into the patients blood stream. If successful, the stem cells will migrate into the patients bone marrow and begin producing new, healthy white blood cells to replace the abnormal ones. Since a small number of these cells reside in the bloodstream outside the bone marrow, these easier to harvest cells have been used to treat blood diseases and cancer and it is a much less invasive procedure. Collecting enough in this manner can be a challenge.
Newborns no longer need their umbilical cords so they have traditionally been discarded, but recently the multipotent stem cell rich blood found in the umbilical cord has proven useful in treating the same types of health problems as those treated using bone marrow stem cells. Umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants are less prone to rejection than bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells probably because the cells have not yet developed the features that can be recognized and attacked by the recipient's immune system. Also, umbilical cord blood lacks well-developed immune cells that can attack the patient’s body.
Through cell therapy will it be possible to clone organs which can be transplanted into humans whose livers, kidneys, heart etc. is failing or diseased? Will we be able to test new drugs on stem cells instead of people with accurate results? The most important potential application of human stem cells is the generation of cells and issues that could be used for cell-based therapies. Instead of donated organs being used to replace ailing organs or destroyed tissue, can implanted stem cells repair and grow healthy organ tissue?