Stem cell therapy remains a developing science, yet published findings indicate that it is having a positive impact on a number of health conditions. One study found that using stem cells from bone marrow decreased instances of pain in patients with a condition called osteoarthritis, which impacts their knees.
This degenerative joint disease causes pain that worsens over time, but the findings suggest that stem cells could help regenerate cartilage and, in doing so, reduce pain in those who suffer from osteoarthritis. While further study is required to confirm such regenerative potential, the reduction in pain is a positive indication that stem cells have a positive effect on this specific condition.
The Basics of Stem Cells: How Stem Cell Therapy Works
There is some misunderstanding among the general public about what exactly stem cells are, their source, and how stem cell therapy works. Stem cells can be likened to building block cells, as they are the cells from which the rest of the body’s cells with specialized functions originate.
Stems cells divide in a way that, over time, multiplies the number of stem cells in the body. This division results in the creation of “daughter cells,” which may take the form of new stem cells or specialized cells, such as bone cells, cartilage, brain cells, heart muscle cells, or some other form of cell. This ability for stem cells to generate specialized cells illuminates their potential for repairing parts of the body that are damaged.
Stem cells are drawn from a few primary sources. They are:
- Perinatal stem cells, which may be collected from the blood of a child’s umbilical cord or in amniotic fluid
- Adult stem cells, which are often taken from the bone marrow or fat of adult bodies
- Embryonic stem cells, taken from an unborn child generally at the point when the embryo is three to five days into development
- Induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult stem cells genetically reengineered to take the form of embryonic stem cells
The form of stem cells has an impact on their potential medical use. The medical community hopes that greater funding, research, and experimentation will continue to improve the number of applications that stem cells have to reduce the effects of and eventually cure an array of health ailments.
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The Medical Benefits of Stem Cells
The hope is that stem cells will provide a tangible form of treatment for an array of diseases and other health problems. The aforementioned case of regenerating knee cartilage shows that, in some cases, stem cells are already fulfilling this vision.
Stem cells also provide a number of benefits besides direct treatment. Some of these benefits include:
- Improving the understanding of how diseases develop, as observing their division may give insight into how cell growth eventually translates into diseases
- Testing drugs in stem cells before they are used in humans, as this may provide the benefits of human trials without the possible downsides (humans directly experiencing the side effects of untested treatments)
With these possible benefits in mind, using stem cells for direct treatment holds the greatest potential of all. Let us dig deeper into the various ways that stem cells are being used as forms of treatment.
Various Applications for Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is still relatively young, and it is being tested to combat several health conditions. Several factors have slowed further adoption of stem cell therapy. Such reservations include:
- Underdeveloped regulation of stem cell therapy in many geographic locations
- Varying results regarding the efficacy of stem cell therapy as a treatment for different health conditions
- The cost of therapy versus the payoff for caregiver facilities
Still, the potential is too great for any of these concerns to impede research into the effectiveness of stem cell therapy. Researchers are exploring the efficacy of stem cell therapy to treat conditions such as:
- Bone marrow failure
- Restoring immune system function in patients that have undergone chemotherapy or radiation
- Re-growing cartilage in areas that are depleted, such as the knees and other joints
- Reducing instances of organ rejection in those who have undergone an organ transplant
- Restoring vision in those who have suffered damage to their cornea
- Repairing damaged trachea
New uses for stem cell therapy are being developed every day, and you may be eligible for stem cell therapy even if your ailment is not listed above.
*The information within this article is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Please speak to a medical professional to diagnose and address specific conditions.