When an organ is degenerating, the cells are breaking down and losing their ability to function. Stem cell therapy is an amazing modern medical advancement that goes straight to the source of the problem—damage on the cellular level. Stem cell therapy is a procedure by which damaged, diseased, or malfunctioning cells anywhere in the body are replaced by introducing healthy stem cells to that area of the body. Stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for all kinds of degenerative diseases because of the stem cells’ regenerative abilities.
Stem cell therapy sounds like a relatively new concept, but there are stem cell therapy treatments with which most of us are already familiar. Bone marrow transplant is one type of stem cell therapy (specifically hematopoietic cell therapy) that has been in use for the past 40 years for regenerating the blood and immune systems, especially for the treatment of leukemia.
The stem cells are infused directly into the patient's blood stream, which migrate to the bone marrow. Inside the bone marrow environment, the stem cells begin differentiating into the three blood cell types - red blood, white blood and platelets. This initiates the regeneration of the patient's blood and immune system.
A new type of stem cell therapy (specifically mesenchymal cell therapy) has come on the scene in recent years for replacement of damaged or diseased tissues and organs and also for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, providing relief from what was once thought to be a hopeless cause. The goal of mesenchymal cell therapy is to treat diseases of non-hematopoietic tissues in an analogous fashion to treating leukemia with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
It is anticipated that virtually any tissue many be amenable to cellular therapy and to understand the safety and efficacy of the same several hundred clinical trials are underway for a whole host of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's Disease, Atherosclerosis, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Parkinson's Disease, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and many others.
Currently the best-known and widely used therapy, bone marrow transplant is used to treat leukemia and other types of cancers as well as various blood disorders.
Leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells (also called leukocytes). It occurs when leukocytes begin to grow and function abnormally, becoming cancerous. Successful treatment for leukemia depends on getting rid of all the abnormal leukocytes in the patient, allowing healthy ones to grow in their place. To do this, the patient's existing bone marrow and abnormal leukocytes are first killed using a combination of chemotherapy and radiation - and the donor bone marrow containing healthy stem cells is introduced into the patient's bloodstream. The therapy is deemed successful when the stem cells migrate into the patient's bone marrow and begin producing new, healthy leukocytes to replace the abnormal cells.
Traditionally discarded as after-birth, umbilical cord blood is a rich source of multi-potent stem cells that have proven useful in treating the same types of medical conditions - as those treated using bone marrow stem cells and peripheral blood stem cells.
Umbilical cord blood is collected soon after birth and stored in a stem cell bank like LifeCell, where stem cells are harvested from the cord blood and cryo-preserved at -196o
C. Umbilical cord blood stem cells hold immense potential for stem cell therapies, due to their versatile nature and easy availability. While compared to bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells, they are less prone to rejection as they have not yet developed the features that can be recognized and attacked by the recipient's immune system. And as umbilical cord blood lacks well-developed immune cells, there is a lesser chance of the transplanted cells attacking the recipient's body - a problem called graft versus host disease.
The first umbilical cord blood transplant was performed in 1988 in France, which successfully treated a 5-year old boy with Fanconi's Anaemia. To date there have been more than 10,000 umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants reported worldwide.
Multi-potent peripheral blood stem cells can be used to treat leukemia & other cancers and various blood disorders. Researchers have devised a way of injecting 'growth factors' to cause these stem cells to grow faster and enter the blood.
The stem cells are removed from the circulating blood through a process called apheresis. Blood is drawn from a donor's arm and is simultaneously run through a special machine that separates out the stem cells. The rest of the blood is returned to the donor and the process is repeated for a few days until enough stem cells are collected. Peripheral blood stem cells are easier to obtain than bone marrow as they can be drawn from blood. Though a less invasive option, collecting enough for therapy can be a challenge as they are found in very low quantities.