Human stem cells are nondescript cells that can self-renew to generate various kinds of tissues. Often seen as the building blocks of human tissue, stem cells have been researched as a potential holy grail for treating all sorts of diseases and injuries. And while stem cell therapy does show a lot of promise, we are still a long way off from developing any kind of universal stem cell program. Research will determine the future of any such universal treatment.
In the meantime, doctors are undergoing stem cell training in order to be able to offer basic therapies to their patients. Stem cell therapy and its platelet rich plasma cousin are becoming more accepted ways to treat things such as osteoarthritis and sports injuries. The two therapies are also used for pain management.
While companies like Salt Lake City-based Apex Biologix pursue stem cell training for doctors, researchers are hard at work trying to find new ways to effectively use the therapies for better health. Yet researchers face an enormous number of challenges in their work. Those challenges begin with the differences between embryonic and adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cell research was extremely popular at the turn of the 21st century due to the fact that these kinds of cells are not limited in terms of the kinds of tissue they can create. By nature, embryonic stem cells have to be able to generate every other kind of cell in order to create a complete human being. But embryonic stem cells do have numerous downsides, including instability and the potential for becoming cancerous.
Adult stem cells are considerably more stable. They have a near zero risk of producing cancerous cells under normal conditions. However, adult stem cells are limited in terms of the kind of tissue they can generate. Stem cells from the brain, for example, can only generate new brain tissue.
Just these two basic differences should be enough to illustrate the challenges researchers face. In the hope of finding some sort of universal stem cell approach, doctors have to deal with the reality that complex diseases often require complex treatments that can be highly individualized. In light of that, there is new but limited research looking at the possibility of creating ‘synthetic’ stem cells that could create an off-the-shelf treatment in the future.
While researchers keep digging and doctors undergo stem cell training courses, certain kinds of patients are already benefiting from stem cell therapies. At the top of the list are children who have leukemia.
Stem cells extracted from bone marrow have been used to successfully treat leukemia since the 1980s. In fact, it is that success that has spurred so much excitement about the potential of stem cell therapies for other kinds of diseases. Leukemia represents the starting point for understanding how adult stem cells can be used to promote natural healing.
Elsewhere, doctors are using stem cell treatments to help patients dealing with chronic pain as a result of tissue damage or loss. They are using stem cells and platelet rich plasma to offer relief from osteoarthritis and promote quicker and more natural healing of injuries and wounds. Stem cell therapies are even used to treat burn victims by helping to more quickly generate healthy skin grafts.
Stem cell therapy is not yet as common as certain kinds of surgeries and pharmaceutical treatments, but it’s only a matter of time before it is. Research is promising, and it is ongoing throughout the U.S. and Europe. Humanity stands to reap great benefits as a result.