A Brief Introduction to Stem Cell Therapy
The cutting-edge cure...for some!Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Simple Introduction to Stem Cell Treatment
For the uninitiated, even an investigative journalist, wandering into the area of Stem Cell treatment of disease, and the ongoing research, is like a book-worm gnawing his way through Encyclopedia Britannica and getting stuck in the introduction.
This said, I thought there might be some value in a small article summarizing some of what might or might not be a miracle cure of many of our worst ailments.
The first thing I noticed is the Internet is already bursting with clinics offering stem cell treatment. In between, like the fading brakes on a supercar, are erudite articles advising caution. Most of the language in warning articles takes a scientist to really understand, whereas the clinic's blurbs are written in a manner even the least educated sufferer of some horrendous condition can grasp....of course. Same once for nicotine users by history's super psychopaths, Big Tobacco, and now for devotees of the awful "Vaping" (It's for the vapid of couse...we're still breathing in particles from their gummed-up lungs!).
No doubt the cart is well before the horse. There is so little confirmed about the value of this treatment, except there is evidence it has worked to some extent on many patients. More sobering, it may have ended the lives of others.
What are stem cells? Well, they could be called the building blocks of life. Unlike regular cells which plough on through life replicating and serving the same old organs, tissue, marrow and bone, etc., that they are part of, some stem cells can also renew and transfer themselves into other cells in places where they are needed.
There are three main types of stem cells undergoing research and being used in treatment world-wide. The first two, "Embyonic," and "Somatic - or Adult" stem cells regularly divide and replace bone marrow, the gut and bone tissue; some of these are specialized and are only effective under special circumstances in repairing the pancreas and heart, etc.
Since 1996, scientists have been involved with a new type of stem cells, the ""Induced Pluripotent" type.
These are actually the old adult type that have been reprogrammed genetically. They then return to the embryonic state and can be used more widely as the original cells found in an embryo before the cell's duties are rigidly defined.
At least that is the over, over simplified description of what they do.
OK if all goes well, the patient spends a few days in the locality of the clinic receiving daily teatment and the injection of the "miracle" little repair kits.
Stem cells have been touted as a cure-all for many of the ills that besiege man, from paralysis to warts and much in between. Research continues night and day to back these claims and also, sadly, to prevent more from dying from their last hope as it were. This, because there is a "nothing to lose" attitude found amongst those patients who might be on death's door, or so crippled they have no quality life left.
Scientists point out, as do responsible clinics, that they may be a serious downside from their treatment. The cells have been involved in causing tumors, "Teratomas," infection, tissue rejection and catastrophic immune system response.
Also, claims by many patients of success may be tinted by the patient's own natural healing, his enforced regimen, diet and other factors...the so-called "Placebo Effect."
And then there is cost for what is looming as Rich Man's Cure. I couldn't find much online re this: the clinics aren't very revealing.
One such published acounting was by a Ms Yamato of a Tokio University who indicated that one such study and course of treatment would cost a staggering $512, 000...I think she meant dollars. I'm sure this is exceptional...Not much chance of getting that on Britain's NHS who are underwriting less not more expensive procedures all the time.
I want this article to stand as an introduction and mention of the difficulties of this new "miracle" treatment. It may, in time, turn out to be just that...but only if the researchers are given time to complete the necessary studies without being seduced by big money which has the scent of fortunes already tickling its nostrils.
You can find screeds online of the technical aspects of stem cell research and treatment. I am checking myself to see if these busy little cure-alls can be persuaded to cure my high blood pressure, gout and diabetes...and perhaps add an inch or so where they would be welcome somewhere! Yes, I'd love to be 6'2" What ever did you think I meant!? Google'll have my pass for grass!