Stem cell research has received all the hate and love since its inception. The idea of a miracle cure and bodies self-repairing themselves is something that holds a particular fascination. With its versatile applications, stem cell therapy brings regenerative medicine a step closer. Though the potential advantages are many, the ideas and concepts of stem cells remain controversial, leading to infinite research and ongoing studies. This doesn’t prevent the rise of some myths and Dr David C. Karli, a pioneer in stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine, debunks it.
Why Are Stem Cells the Focus of Medical Research?
Stem cells function primarily like raw materials for the body in varying concentrations. As per the body’s instructions, stem cells may change themselves into various other cells with specialized functions. The “daughters” of stem cells may either renew themselves or may specialize themselves for particular body functions. These specialized ones include the cells of the brain, heart, bones, blood and others.
Dr David C Karli is an Ivy-trained physician and the CEO of Greyledge Technologies, specialized in developing biologic products in the regenerative medicine space. When asked about the controversies revolving around stem cell therapies, he said: “Stem cell technology is yet to revolutionize, with a new standard of personalized treatment where bodies can self-repair.”
Some of the reasons why stem cells are the focus of many medical science pieces of research today are:
- Stem cells help understand the development patterns of several illnesses while they differentiate into nerves, bone cells and organ and tissue cells.
- Stem Cells can be used to find out the body cells and system reaction to drugs. For example, growing nerve cells in a controlled setting efficiently determine the side-effects of new nerve disease treatments.
- With the potential to regenerate parts of the body and restore functionality, individuals with diseases like Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoarthritis and cancer are yet to benefit from stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine.
“Stem Cell therapy is the last avenue of medical research, be it consequential or controversial. Understanding stem cell therapy and the debate around it requires knowledge of its origin and potential”, says Dr Karli.
The origin of stem cells
Stem cells are harvested from four sources.
- Embryonic stem cells come from a few-days old embryo.
- Adult stem cells can be developed by extracting them from the organs and tissues of the human body.
- Amniotic fluid contains stem cells. Amniotic fluid is extracted when a woman opts for an amniocentesis test checking for congenital disabilities before childbirth. Following extraction, Amniotic fluid is used to treat health conditions during the gestation period or post-childbirth.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) are programmed to act as stem cells for regenerative medicinal use. Stem cells are stored in liquid nitrogen after collection.
Stem Cells first came into limelight during the 1990s when scientists derived them from Embryos. This was the root cause of all the controversies. Many people believe that the extraction of stem cells from embryo leads to its destruction.
The beliefs on the beginning of human life are complex, as people are preoccupied with many. For some, life starts after childbirth, or when the fetus is developed. While some believe that human life begins when women conceive, giving an embryo the same moral status when compared to a child or adult.
Along with the growing controversies, technical advancements have also taken shape. As of 2006, scientists have stopped deriving stem cells from an embryo and instead, used pluripotent stem cells. With innovation, the attitude towards stem cell therapies is slowly beginning to change.
As people are adapting to new technology, stem cell research is easing treatments with the concept of a microorganism taking shape from a single cell and how healthy cells can replace the diseased ones, leading to a complete cure.
Cancer and other congenital disabilities occur due to the abnormal division of human cells. A knowledge in stem cell therapy can provide insight into the root cause and its treatment options.
Stem cells have shown promising benefits in many areas of health, from reducing scarring on the heart, orthopaedic treatments and dental repair.
Though a dive into research is necessary before stem cells become a part of the regular medicinal practice, the technical advancements around stem cell therapies are always intact.