An exciting emerging field of research is stem cell technology. Scientists are utilizing stem cells sourced from our blood, bone marrow and our fat cells to manage a myriad of medical conditions including reversing the aging process. Stem cell therapy is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into specialized cell types. Commonly, stem cells come from two main sources:
- Embryos formed during embryological development (embryonic stem cells)
- Adult tissue (adult stem cells) which can be sourced from blood, bone marrow or adipose tissue
Both types are generally characterized by their potency, or potential to differentiate into different cell types (such as skin, muscle, bone, etc.).
Stem cell research:
Scientists and researchers are interested in stem cells for several reasons. Although stem cells do not serve any one function, they have the capacity to specialize into any type of human cell. Therefore, stem cells can be induced to regenerate damaged cells, tissues and organs under the right conditions. There is much ongoing research surrounding the long list of potential benefits in the area of stem cells including a recent docu-series called The Healing Miracle which Joan and I found fascinating! You can watch the first episode free here.
Uses for stem cells:
1. Organ and tissue regeneration
Tissue regeneration is probably the most important possible application of stem cell research. The most common use to date is injecting autologous (meaning coming from yourself) stem cells into a damaged or worn out joint. Frequently this is a knee, shoulder or even the spine. This therapy is being used in clinics all over the US with great success. Everyday we hear of another professional athlete who has had stem cells injected into a joint and had complete reversal of disease. The Buck Institute team is now looking at how suitable stem cells may be for treating degenerative disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis and metabolic syndromes.
Stem cells could potentially be used to grow a particular type of tissue. For example, stem cells that lie just beneath the skin, progenitor cells have been used to engineer
new skin tissue that can be grafted on to burn victims. These same progenitor cells combined with growth factors are now available in topical products. They improve aging skin by diminishing wrinkles, improving hydration and firmness, and enhancing our own body’s ability to repair. Our favorite products, Provoque Facial Serum and Provoque Eye Complex. These two products promote advanced facial rejuvenation by reducing the appearance of wrinkles in as early as 14 days with significant reduction by 8 weeks. See the results.
2. Blood disease
Adult stem cells found in blood and bone marrow have been used for years. They are used to treat diseases such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other immunodeficiencies.
3. Cardiovascular disease
A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital reported in PNAS Early Edition (July 2013 issue) that they were able to create blood vessels in laboratory mice using human stem cells. The authors explained that using stem cells to repair or regenerate blood vessels could eventually help treat human patients with cardiovascular and vascular diseases.
4. Brain disease
Stem cells are being used to treat brain disease such as Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s Disease and traumatic brain injuries by replenishing damaged neural tissue.
Stem cells in the future
Healthy heart cells developed in a laboratory may one day be transplanted into diseased hearts, re-populating the heart with healthy tissue. Similarly, people with type I diabetes may receive pancreatic cells to replace the insulin-producing cells that have been destroyed by the patient’s own immune system.
Research is exploding in the field of stem cell science. Many experts theorize that we may someday never need surgery. Instead we program our bodies to regenerate damaged tissues and organs and heal ourselves. That is crazy exciting!