A stem cell can be defined as the cell from the embryo, also called as the master cell or the first cell of the body. These master cells have the capacity to multiple or renew themselves to form more than 200 specialized cell types.
When a stem cell divides, it either has the potential to remain a stem cell or become another cell type with a specialized function, for example, pancreas cells, blood cells, and cartilage cells. Under specific physiologic and experimental conditions, these cell types can be induced to become tissue or organ-specific cells.
As stem cells are the basic cells of our body, they can develop or differentiate into any cell type. These developed cells migrate to the injured organs of our body and transform themselves into new tissue cells that can replace the damaged cells in the organ. If the disease is in an advanced state, an additional supply of stem cells can provide faster and powerful healing.
Stem cells using bone marrow has been used to treat cancer patients with conditions such as leukaemia and lymphoma for the last 30 years.
Stem cell therapy has also been used in the treatment of critical diseases including:
- Brain stroke
- Spinal cord injury
- Cerebral Palsy
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Motor Neuron disease
- Kidney failure
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Liver disease
- Blindness and visual impairment
- HIV/ AIDS.
Stem cells provide the following characteristics, making them effective in medical treatments:
- They can divide infinitely without losing any of their genetic traits.
- They undergo the process of self-renewal by producing copies of themselves over and over again, throughout the life of the organism.
- They can maintain their number with each additional division.
- They can divide and differentiate themselves into more specialized cell types. Stem cells from different tissues and in different stages of development can vary in the number and type of cells they produce.
There is widespread opposition to the use of the human embryo as the source of stem cells. The controversy is largely regarding the technique used to derive the embryonic stem cell lines, which requires the destruction of the blastocyst. Besides this, stem cells derived from the human embryo have ethical issues and carry the risk of tumour development.The guidelines set by the National Institute of Health in 2009 determine that stem cells can be derived from the embryo created only by invitro fertilization, when the embryo is no longer needed. In India, embryonic stem cell is still under clinical research. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), embryonic stem cells cannot be used in clinical therapies until it is approved by regulatory authorities like the DCGI.
Stem cells therapy in India is definitely safer than other invasive forms of treatment such as organ transplants and surgery. As stem cells are derived from your own body, they are safer and readily accepted by one’s own body for the regeneration of damaged cells, without any severe medical complications. Additionally, stem cells are similar to other cells of your body, hence they are processed faster and do not cause any unfavourable body reaction.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent stromal cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types, including osteoblasts (or bone cells), chondrocytes (or cartilage cells), myocytes (or muscle cells) and adipocytes (or fat cells).
The Adipose tissue is one of the richest source of MSCs. The quantity of stem cells in 1 gm of body fat is around 500 times that in 1 gm of bone marrow. Another rich source of MSCs is the developing tooth bud of the mandibular 3rd molar. These stem cells eventually progress to form the enamel, dentin, blood vessels, and dental pulp.
Human MSCs have the natural ability to transform into numerous type of cells that can:
- Reduce inflammation.
- Prevent the death of cells.
- Form new blood vessels.
- Direct the immune system of the human body in effective healing.
In general terms, most physicians and patients believe that stem cell therapy is the future of medicine. Worldwide advancement in stem cell research has been geared towards improving the effectiveness of stem cells in speedy and safe treatment of most diseases.According to Roger Pedersen, Professor of Regenerative medicine and Director of the Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Cambridge, we are fast moving into a world where stem cell therapy will replace the use of treatment drugs.