If biology wasn’t your favorite subject, you might be a little vague on why stem cells are considered so valuable. But the chances are good that you’ll know someone with a condition who could benefit from this miraculous resource. Stem cells are treating more than 80 diseases, and current studies are exploring many more applications. This crash course can give you a sense of their potential.
What Do They Do?
Stem cells are the building blocks for all the other cells in your body. They can either generate more stem cells or turn into more specialized cells. These include red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, heart muscle cells, bone cells—you get the idea. So if a patient needs replacement cells or even cell repairs, stem cells are the ideal place to start.
Where Can You Get Them?
One can find these cells in a variety of sources, even the amniotic fluid drawn from pregnant women. But the stem cells for treatment mainly come from adults’ bone marrow and, increasingly, the blood in babies’ umbilical cords. The younger the cells, the purer and more versatile they are.
What Can They Treat?
At this point, the Federal Drug Administration has approved stem cell treatment for more than 80 diseases and conditions. For instance, stem cells can replace cells destroyed by chemotherapy. Children, in particular, have benefited from these treatments in fighting and curing some types of cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma, and multiple myeloma. The FDA also allows it for the treatment of blood disorders like sickle cell anemia.
What’s Their Potential?
Stem cell research dates back to the 1980s, but now many clinical trials are exploring even more uses for them. One area of great interest involves stem cells found in the tissue of umbilical cords, which develop in different ways. If deemed safe and successful, stem cells could help cure countless more conditions. That’s why stem cells are so valuable—we still don’t know the full extent of their potential. These trials are testing treatments for:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
That’s just a sampling of the common conditions that impact so many families. And scientists are also hoping to learn more about the possibility that stem cells could be valuable in growing new tissue. If they prove that application successful, doctors will even be able to regenerate tissue for the human heart. Stem cells appear to be the key to truly staggering medical breakthroughs in the future.