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What are stem cell?
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have two important characteristics that distinguish them from other cells in the body.
- Stem cells can replenish their numbers for long periods through a process of multiplication called cell division
- After receiving certain chemical signals, they can differentiate, or transform into specialized cells with specific functions.
Different sources of Stem Cells?
Depending upon the source, stem cells are further classified into the following types:
Embryonic Stem Cells
These stem cells are derived from the early stage embryo( 4-7 day embryo) known as blastocyst stage. These are the cells from where the whole embryo and a human being is formed.This gives an idea of their potential to form all organs of our body and in a short time. This is because these cells have the dual ability to undergo unlimited self renewal (divide indefinitely) as well as to differentiate/transform in all fetal and adult stem cells and their mature forms.Due to this very reason, these cell also have a tendency to form tumors called as teratomas, which may come up as a complication later in life. Currently, due to this reason, the use of these cells is restricted to research only.Apart from scientific issues, the ESCs are surrounded by ethical concerns and controversies regarding use of live embryos for deriving or making these cells.
Umbilical Cord blood stem cells: Umbilical cord blood is the blood left over in the placenta and in the umbilical cord after the birth of the baby. The cord blood contains a huge amount of stem cells.These stem cells have been found to be useful for treating genetic disorders of blood, eg. Sickle cell anaemia , thalessemia, etc.Its use for other disorders , like spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, etc. is coming into vogue recently. The cells have to checked/cross matched with that of the recipient before use(just like it is done for any organ transplant) to avoid rejection.Most of the cells in the umbilical cord blood are immature , hence the cross matching criteria used is much less stricter than for normal organ transplant.
Adult Stem Cells
These are the stem cells found in most organs of the body , even in adult life, eg. liver, skin, bone marrow & even in some pockets in the brain!They mainly help in replenishing the dying cells and regenerate damaged tissue. They are also known as somatic stem cells.Use of adult stem cells has been in practice for decades now. It is commonly referred to as bone marrow transplantation ( for blood disorders,eg. Sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia, etc.), which was taken from blood relatives, mainly, siblings. It is referred to as allogenic bone marrow transplant. Use of one’s own stem cells is referred to as Autologus stem cell transplant and is being tried in diseases affecting organs other than the blood.
How does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
The biological task of stem cells is to repair and regenerate damaged cells. Stem cell therapy exploits this function by administering these cells systematically and in high concentrations directly into the damaged tissue, where they advance its self-healing. The process that lies behind this mechanism is largely unknown, but it is assumed that stem cells discharge certain substances which activate the diseased tissue. It is also conceivable that single damaged somatic cells, e.g. single neurocytes in the spinal cord or endothelium cells in vessels, are replaced by stem cells. Most scientists agree that stem cell research has great life-saving potential and could revolutionize the study and treatment of diseases and injuries.
What are the Diseases that can be treated by Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy is useful in certain degenerative diseases like
- Cerebral Palsy – spastic, hypertonic and ataxic.
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Duschene Muscular Dystrophy and other Myopathies
- Motor Neuron Diseases
- Mental retardation
- Multiple sclerosis
- Transverse myelitis
- Hemiplegia (Stroke)
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Neurological disorders due to hypoxic brain damage.
- Brain Hemorrhage and Cerebral -Infarct
- Spinal Cord Injury and Paraplegia
What is the Procedure of Stem Cell Therapy?
If stem cell therapy is an option, a detailed treatment plan is prepared depending on the type of treatment necessary. Once the patient has consented to the treatment plan, an appointment is scheduled for bone marrow extraction. Please note that this is a minimally invasive surgical procedure, so it is important that patients do not take any blood-thinning medication in the ten days prior to the appointment. It is necessary for each patient to consult their own doctor before discontinuing this type of medication.
The treatment procedure include:
Bone Marrow Extraction
Isolation, Analysis and Concentration of the Stem Cells in the Laboratory
Stem Cell Implantation
Success Rates of Stem Cell Therapy in Indians
There is about a 60% to 80% overall success rate in the use of stem cell therapy in both India and around the world. However, success rates vary depending on the disease being treated, the institute conducting the procedures, and the condition of the patient. In order to receive complete information you will have to contact the medical institutes and ask specific questions concerning the patient’s condition.