Any new form of therapy is bound to be looked at with skepticism, and stem cell therapy is no stranger to controversy! This article aims to debunk the myths associated with stem cell therapy and to create awareness about the plethora of therapeutic possibilities that the field of regenerative medicine has to offer. Dr. Pradeep Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Navi Mumbai explains common myths and busts them with proven facts.
What is the need for stem cell therapy?
As it is rightly said, we cannot manage a disease based on the same treatment protocols that were used when it was first discovered. With changing lifestyle and dietary habits, there has been a change in the occurrence of diseases as well. Thus, there have to be changed in treatments to suit the ever-evolving pathologies. Conditions that were earlier considered to occur only in old age (like arthritis, diabetes, even Alzheimer’s disease, etc.) are now being seen in younger individuals as well. This means that affected individuals now begin to take medications and undergo invasive surgeries quite early, and in several cases have to continue it throughout their life. Developing newer, more effective strategies that can provide long-term solutions to patients. Regenerative medicine and cell-based therapy is one such modality that aims to harness the natural healing potential of the body to treat various diseases.
Myth: Stem cells are sourced from the embryo
Fact: One of the major controversies though is the source of stem cells. It is believed that stem cells derived from the embryo are used for treatment, which aside from being unethical, can also cause tumor formation. However, the majority of the researchers are focusing on autologous cell-based therapies, which means that cells are derived from the patient’s own body. In fact, adult stem cells can be derived from a variety of tissues, and there are no associated ethical aspects or risk of cancer development.
- Common sources of stem cells are the bone marrow, adipose tissue, and umbilical cord.
- When we acquire a disease, all cells in the body (including stem cells) get affected; therefore, cell-based therapy would be ineffective.
- Studies have shown that even in certain genetic/inherited conditions (sickle cell anemia, as an example), stem cells from the patients’ own body retain their functionality.
- These cells are an inherent part of the body (to regenerate whatever damage occurs to organs and tissues), in disease they would actually function even better.
- Providing the required quantity of cells at the desired location to ensure higher concentration can aid in natural healing.
Myth: Stem cells results are temporary
Fact: Another myth related to stem cell therapy is that the cells administered remain in the body only for a certain period; therefore, the results are temporary. While it is true that cells in our body are in a constant state of renewal, this is part of the normal cell aging process once injected, stem cells tend to enhance the functions of other cells and also set off with their inherent functions. Therefore, even when the stem cells differentiate and ‘grow old’ ultimately, a series of healing events have already been set in motion, which help in continuing the regenerative/reparative processes.
Myth: There are only a few diseases that stem cell therapy can treat
Fact: Some also believe that only a few illnesses can be treated due to the limited capabilities of stem cells. The belief is that conditions like sports injuries, arthritis, wounds, etc. only respond to stem cell therapy. It is true that the anti-inflammatory and blood supply enhancing properties, along with the ability of stem cells to differentiate into the desired type of cells (depending on the environment), help in the regeneration of damaged tissues. However, stem cells also have immunomodulatory property, thus autoimmune conditions (e.g., ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, etc.) also respond to therapy.
- For example, it was once believed that stem cells cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. However, this has now been proven otherwise and stem cells help in the regeneration and repair of nerve cells and brain components.
- This has further expanded the scope of stem cell therapy for neurological conditions.
- Cancer immunotherapy using cells of the immune system (dendritic and natural killer cells, among others) has opened up new avenues of target-specific treatments that have overcome the drawbacks of conventional chemo- and radiotherapy.
Overall, the possibilities of stem cell therapy are endless. We are just at the tip of the iceberg. While it is important to be aware of fraudulent claims, obtaining correct information from qualified professionals regarding stem cell therapy is the need of the hour.
Read More Articles in Other Diseases