In our last entry we talked about how stem cells can currently be used to benefit our health. Stem cells are already very useful to us, but we may be just scratching the surface of their full potential. Today we will talk about what research hopes that we will be able to accomplish with stem cells in the near future.
If you have not read part 1, check it out here
Increasing our Understand of Diseases
One of the ways stem cells can help advance healthcare is by expanding our knowledge of how disease and chronic conditions form and operate. By studying how stem cells develop, differentiate, and form into tissues, we can learn a lot about how our bodies operate naturally, as well as discern what causes the natural operation to be disrupted and become diseased. For example, we may possibly be able to determine why some cells end up becoming cancerous.
Just understanding obviously isn’t enough, we have to be able to actually use what we would learn. Any new discoveries would of course become the basis for new treatments, medicines, and hopefully even ways to prevent us from developing serious diseases in the first place.
Better Medicines and Treatments
A more thorough understanding of disease would allow us to devise better medicines, but stem cells could actually help during the development process as well. The hope is that we could program the stem cells to take on the form of specific kinds of tissue cells, and then test medicines designed for those tissues and see how the cells react. This would tell us a lot about the safety and effectiveness of the drugs. Moving on to human trials would be much safer, and it’s possible we would no longer need animal trials when testing out new drugs. The science could also one day advance to allow these drugs to be customized to each individual, making them even more efficient and likely to succeed.
An example of future stem cell usage could be to help cure Type 1 Diabetes. This would happen by programming the stem cells to become cells that produce insulin, allowing the diabetic person to produce insulin on their own. Other possible diseases and conditions that may one day be cured with regenerative stem cell therapy include AIDs, Huntington’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis. This also would include conditions that cause people to be immunocompromised or immunodeficient. Beyond curing diseases, we may one day be able to use the stem cells already in the body to fight diseases instead of having to inject them or implant them during a surgery, which would make stem cell therapies much easier to use and more accessible to the masses, as well as eliminate the difficulty that sometimes arises when the body rejects the foreign stem cells.
Advancing Regenerative Therapy
Since we already use regenerative therapy, it stands to reason that being able to expand the scope and effectiveness of this field is the nearest and most likely advancement we will be able to make. It is believed that stem cell therapy may be able to help with many injuries, diseases, and conditions.
Currently regenerative stem cell therapy therapy is used mostly for injuries involving ligaments and muscles, and is becoming increasingly popular among professional athletes. World Class athletes including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Rafael Nadal, Hines Ward and many more have turned to stem cell therapy for its effectiveness, reduced recovery time, and because it can allow them to avoid major surgery. A great example of how this is used is on injuries to the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in the elbow. This injury is most common among baseball pitchers, and usually requires Tommy John surgery to repair. This procedure is risky and carries a recovery time of well over a year, and it is never guaranteed that the pitcher will be able to perform at the same level ever again. Multiple cases and studies have shown that stem cell therapy can be a viable alternative for partial tears, and get the athletes throwing again much faster . Eventually stem cells may be able to correct injuries like these almost 100% of the time, and hopefully even be used to treat serious injuries like severe burns or injuries to the spinal cord.
Some conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis become more common as we age, and stem cells may one day be able to help cure these conditions or at least make them more manageable, and thus make the process of aging itself easier. Stem cells may also be able to eventually fix sensory related conditions like hearing loss, as well as treat the disease that could cause someone to lose their eyesight. One of the most important advances that could be made with stem cell research is repairing some of the damage done by heart attacks and strokes. After one of these major health events occurs, doctors would be able to implant stem cells that would begin to repair the damaged tissues, and allow them to heal when they would not be able to on their own. Similar research is being conducted that would allow the body to fight and possibly even reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
It’s important to remember that not all of these ideas will end in success, and the ones that are promising may not come to fruition for a long time. However, it is still vital that we remain inspired and continue to move forward towards a brighter and healthier future, which stem cells may very well one day provide.
- B. (n.d.). MLB Pitchers Choosing Stem Cell Therapy Over Tommy John Surgery. Retrieved from https://www.bioxcellerator.com/blog/mlb-pitchers-seeking-out-stem-cell-therapy-for-tommy-johns-surgery#:~:text=Los%20Angeles%20Angels%20pitchers%20Andrew,mixed%20for%20