5 Medical Conditions Stem Cells Could Potentially Help

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth, according to the National Institutes of Health. What kinds of diseases and conditions could stem cell therapy potentially be harnessed to treat? The list is a steadily expanding one, as a result of the ever-increasing recognition of stem cells’ versatility. In early 2016 alone, for example, the CBC reported on Canadian researchers’ use of stem cells to treat septic shock; CBS ran a story on the quest to use stem cells to heal damaged hearts; and the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine spotlighted a quest to use stem cells to rebuild the bones of patients with osteoporosis. Here are five conditions whose symptoms might one day be alleviated with stem cells:

  • Cervical spinal cord injury: Transplantation of stem cells or progenitors may support spinal cord repair, according to research published in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine. Promising results have been obtained in experimental models of spinal cord injury, notes the journal; neural stem cells can differentiate into neurons, oligodendrocytes or glia, which can replace or restore neural cells lost after this type of injury.

A clinical research study is recruiting subjects to study a potential therapy for cervical spinal cord injury. The Pathway Study, being conducted by StemCells, Inc. at various sites around the U.S. and in Canada, is evaluating human neural stem cell transplantation as a potential therapy for those with cervical spinal cord injury. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the safety and potential benefit of an investigational product called human central nervous system stem cells (HuCNS-SC®) for people with this type of injury. To learn about eligibility for enrollment in the study, please visit www.sciresearchstudy.com.

  • Age-related macular degeneration: In this common cause of vision loss, cells known as retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)—which are found in a layer that supports the rods and cones—stop performing their function. According to the website of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), scientists are making great progress in their efforts to replace the RPE layer. Some are using induced pluripotent stem cells to grow rods and cones or RPE cells; others are studying RPE-specific stem cells grown from embryonic stem cells, while still others are using neural stem cells that support and replace the RPE cells.
  • Multiple sclerosis: The destruction of the myelin sheath that protects neurons—a key factor in MS—is one focus of stem cell researchers, reports the ISSCR website. Since neural stem cells from the central nervous system give rise to neurons—and the myelin-producing and support cells, known as oligodendrites and astrocytes—work is focused on how these stem cells do their job and how to develop and test new treatments that can repair the damage or stop the disease from progressing, the ISSCR says.
  • Cardiovascular disease: According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers are working toward using stem cells to replace damaged heart cells and restore cardiac function. One important type of cell that could be developed is the cardiomyocyte, the heart muscle cell that contracts to eject the blood out of the heart’s main pumping chamber. Vascular endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells, both with vital functions, are other types that are being studied, the NIH reports.
  • Diabetes: For decades, diabetes researchers have been searching for ways to replace the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas that are destroyed by a patient’s own immune system, reports the NIH. In theory, embryonic stem cells could be cultivated and coaxed into developing into the insulin-producing pancreas cells. With a ready supply of cultured stem cells at hand, the theory, says the NIH, is that a line of embryonic stem cells could be grown up as needed for anyone requiring a transplant.

“Researchers are constantly being surprised by the potential of stem cells to address these and many other medical conditions,” says Dr. Stephen Huhn, VP, Clinical Research and Chief Medical Officer of StemCells, Inc., a developer of stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury. “As time goes on, there is little doubt that the state of basic stem cell science will expand, and along with it, viable treatments to alleviate patients’ suffering.”

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