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Stem Cells

Regenerating Tissues and Organs: Stem Cells and the Future of Medicine

Vedish Soni—McMaster Health Sciences 2023

Stem cells have captured the imagination of researchers worldwide. With millions of dollars in funding, labs have been fervently working to make the dream of fully regenerative stem cell therapies a reality. Stem cell therapies promise a radically different way to treat disorders, as they use the body’s own regenerative properties to fix damaged organs, tissues, and cells. Exploring the current state of stem cell therapies shows that they may have a significant impact on the future of medicine.

In order to understand the impact of stem cell therapies, it is first important to understand what stem cells are. Stem cells are blank slates, once given appropriate instruction, they can differentiate into various cell types. Stem cells are also self-renewable, which means they can continually divide to create a perpetual pool of other stem cells. The application of the differentiation and self-renewable properties of stem cells to regrow damaged tissue is the objective of stem cell therapies. These therapies may provide medicine a way to treat previously incurable diseases and disorders. 

SOURCE: National MS Society

Stem cell therapies have shown great potential in combating heart disease. Current treatments cannot completely repair damaged hearts, which can often lead to remission.  Stem cell therapies offer a solution, as researchers have been successful in using adult stem cells to create heart cells in mice.1 This is an exciting breakthrough, since hospitals may soon be able to forego complicated surgeries or organ transplants in favour of regenerating damaged cells. This has the potential to revolutionize heart disease treatment as patients will no longer have to wait years for organ donations, nor will they have to live with faulty hearts. Through the regenerative power of stem cell therapies, heart disease may no longer pose a threat in the future.

Complicated neurological disorders may also be treated with stem cells.  A preclinical study done by Swistowski et al. used stem cells to regrow key neurons implicated in Parkinson’s Disease (PD).2 Additionally, Yamanka et al. has begun the first clinical trial on using stem cells to treat PD, and preliminary results have already proven its safety.3 If perfected, the ability to regrow famously delicate neurons using stem cells is revolutionary. This would provide scientists the ability to return patients to the state they were in before the onset of the neurological disorder. Consequently, incurable diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s would finally have appropriate treatments.  Thus, the application of stem cell therapies in neurology can help solve some of the field’s most difficult challenges.

Beyond its typical uses, stem cell therapies are being used in conjunction with other procedures to create some remarkable results. Researchers are currently using stem cells and other reproductive techniques to create artificial sperm and embryos to prevent the northern white rhinoceros from going extinct.4 This has interesting implications for human fertility, as the use of stem cells to create sex cells could assist those who have reproductive problems. Stem cell therapies can also be used to support patients suffering from deadly viruses. Stem cells have been shown to decrease the immunological and inflammatory processes that lead to lung injury in COVID-19.5 This means that stem cell therapies can be used to support patients suffering from serious symptoms while they await treatment.  As is evident in the above studies, the creative use of stem cell therapies may be able to support patients in exciting ways.

Despite considerable advances in medicine, patients often still fall victim to many diseases. Noncommunicable diseases still prey upon millions of lives per year, with current treatments being unable to fully return patients back to normal. Stem cell therapy may be the solution, as regenerating damaged tissue would be far more effective than any pill or surgical procedure. Despite the challenges in creating fully regenerative therapies, history shows when scientists put in the time and effort, remarkable things can occur. In a few decades, the stem cell therapy revolution may very well push humanity into a new age of medicine.

References

  1. Tomita SJ, Li RK, Weisel RD, Mickle DA, Kim EJ. Sakai Tl. Autologous transplantation of BMC improves damaged heart function. Circulation. 1999;100.
  2. Swistowski A, Peng J, Liu Q, Mali P, Rao MS, Cheng L, Zeng X. Efficient generation of functional dopaminergic neurons from human induced pluripotent stem cells under defined conditions. Stem cells. 2010 Oct;28(10):1893-904.
  3. Takahashi J. Stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Expert review of neurotherapeutics. 2007 Jun 1;7(6):667-75.
  4. Hildebrandt TB, Hermes R, Colleoni S, Diecke S, Holtze S, Renfree MB, Stejskal J, Hayashi K, Drukker M, Loi P, Göritz F. Embryos and embryonic stem cells from the white rhinoceros. Nature communications. 2018 Jul 4;9(1):1-9.
  5. Zanirati G, Provenzi L, Libermann LL, Bizotto SC, Ghilardi IM, Marinowic DR, Shetty AK, Da Costa JC. Stem cell-based therapy for COVID-19 and ARDS: a systematic review. npj Regenerative Medicine. 2021 Nov 8;6(1):1-5.

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