Stem cell therapy is the use of the building blocks of the body’s cells, to improve or cure various ailments. Stem cells are the body’s raw materials that work to produce other cells through division, creating either more stem cells or cells that carry out a particular function. For example, a therapy may aim to use stem cells to produce new, normal-functioning liver cells in somebody whose liver has sustained damage.
Stem cell therapy undergoes continuous research, but the goal of most treatments is to create new, naturally-produced cells in parts of the body that are damaged or do not function as they normally should.
What You Need to Know About Stem Cells
The ability of stem cells to generate specialized cells lies at the heart of their potential for promoting healthy bodily functions. Some of the forms of stem cells used in various therapies include:
- Embryonic stem cells, taken from an embryo
- Perinatal stem cells, which may come from the blood of a child’s umbilical cord or the fluid surrounding the amniotic sac
- Adult stem cells, typically extracted from bone marrow or fat of adults
- Induced pluripotent stem cells, adult stem cells genetically modified to take on the form of embryonic stem cells
Different forms of stem cells have different potential for use in stem cell therapy.
Stem Cells Are an Evolving Form of Treatment
The therapeutic potential of stem cells in medicine remains high, which leaves medical professionals and industry asking, what is stem cell therapy and how does it work? Some envision stem cells as tools for reversing the effects of an array of degenerative diseases and disorders.
Aside from direct treatment, stem cells may provide a number of benefits, including:
- The ability to test new drugs without using living humans, as stem cells replicate how the human body functions
- As an observational tool to better understand how diseases develop and progress, which will hopefully lead to novel treatments
Different stem cell therapies are at varying levels of development. While some are in the research stage, other forms of stem cell therapy are commonly conducted today.
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What You Need to Know About Stem Cell Therapy Research
No two stem cell therapies are the same, and you cannot make generalizations about the success of stem cell therapy. One study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine displays the success of taking stem cells from bone marrow to help reduce instances of pain in those who have a degenerative knee condition called osteoarthritis.
The broad goal of stem cell therapy is that the overall patient pool will experience lower morbidity rates should stem cells prove viable in regenerating damaged or dying cells, according to an article published in The American Journal of Medicine.
The most common use of stem cell therapy is the hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). This therapy calls for the use of stem cells to treat disorders involving the hematopoietic system, or the network of organs and tissues involved in creating blood.
HSCT is increasingly common, though it is more prevalent in developed nations where healthcare resources are more advanced and abundant. This form of stem cell therapy often involves taking stem cells from bone marrow and blood to boost the production of healthy blood cells.
While this is the most commonly used form of stem cell therapy, medical professionals are actively exploring additional avenues for stem cells as a treatment for various other ailments.
Additional Applications for Stem Cell Therapy
Visions for stem cell therapy in the medical community are grand, as there is no shortage of applications for which stem cells are being tested. According to a study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, researchers are exploring the effectiveness of stem cell therapy to:
- Regrow cartilage in areas that are depleted, such as the knees and other joints
- Reduce instances of organ rejection in those who have undergone an organ transplant
- Restore vision in those who have suffered damage to their cornea
- Repair trachea that has been damaged
- Treat bone marrow failure
- Combat the effects of leukemia
- Restore immune system function in patients that have undergone chemotherapy or radiation
Medical professionals are working on new applications for stem cells as you read this. The effectiveness of stem cell therapies varies on a case-by-case basis. If you’re asking what is stem cell therapy and how does it work, you should speak to a medical professional about whether stem cell therapy is right for you.
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*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.