The medical world has been buzzing for some years now with claims of what stem cell injections can do. Public interest has also been spurred on by the media putting up headlines such as “Wife Recovered from Cancer after Pioneering Stem Cell Treatment” or “Researchers ‘Stunned’ by Stem Cell Experiment That Helped Stroke Patient Walk”.
While most experts agree that stem cells hold incredible healing potential, the truth is, when it comes to actual medical research, this field is still in its infancy. Even though experiments started more than 20 years ago, many questions still remain: Which patients with which diseases might benefit from their use? What types of stem cells should be used? How can the cells be manipulated and administered for lasting effect?
Clinical trials, as exciting as they can be, are still at the phase one stage, in which researchers test a small number of people to see if an intervention is safe, not yet whether it’s effective.
What makes stem cells so special? Well, the majority of our cells are somewhat specialized – we have bone cells, muscle cells, heart, lung, blood and more. Stem cells are undifferentiated, meaning they can turn into other stem cells or other types of cells. They also have the ability to divide indefinitely and replace worn-out tissue, basically acting as a repair kit.
At the moment, stem cell treatments are medically recommended only for a small number of blood disorders. Leukemia patients, for example, have their bone marrow harvested before undergoing high-dose chemotherapy. After the procedure, stem cells from the marrow are reinserted into the bloodstream to restore damaged cells there.
Another case of relevant medical results comes from Australia, where a small industry-funded clinical trial found that people having reconstructive surgery for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee benefited from stem cell injections. These patients experienced less pain and better physical results on their MRIs.
Other projects include working to coax adult blood cells to become nascent cells, similar to the embryonic kind by adding certain DNA molecules. These could, in theory, help rebuild organs that are diseased or affected by different conditions.
Even with all their regenerative potential, it’s important to know that are clinics out there making medical claims with very little supporting evidence. If you are interested in such treatments, it’s best to talk to your own doctor beforehand and chose only reputable centers that offer such programs.