The banking or preservation of stem cells such as from umbilical cord blood or bone marrow has been increasing, as the potential for using stem cells in clinical applications continues to fuel speculation and expectations. Researchers have been steadily exploring various ways to use stem cells at the optimum level, what types to use and how to deliver them to the body — findings that are not only transformational, but also progressive and pragmatic.
Preliminary and promising research through clinical and experimental trials suggests that stem cells may be able to treat autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, brain and spinal-cord injuries, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and breast cancer, among other illnesses. Either donated or stored privately, cord-blood banking is proving to be a rich source of life-saving treatment — now and in the future, as the possibilities of cord blood continue to expand.
“Initial studies suggest that stem cell therapy can be delivered safely,” said Dr. Ellen Feigal, Senior Vice President of research and development at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which was awarded more than $2 billion toward stem cell research since 2006 and is enrolling patients in 10 clinical trials this year. In addition to continuing safety research, Dr. Feigel added, “Now what we want to know is will it work, and will it be better than what’s already out there?”
On the other hand, Dr. Charles Murry, Co-director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Washington, believes that it is important to note that very few therapies beyond bone marrow transplants have been shown to be effective. Websites, newspapers and magazines advertising stem cell therapies leave the impression among the masses that such treatments are ready to use and that “the only problem is the evil physicians and government, who want to separate people from lifesaving therapies,” he said.
Scientists are now exploring direct therapies in new and innovative ways, such as reproducing and studying diseases in a dish using cells created from patients with specific ailments. Kevin Eggan, associated with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is using this technique to study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He began his work five years ago when he took skin cells from two women dying from the same genetic form of ALS. He turned these skin cells into stem cells and then into nerve cells, and discovered an electrical problem—the cells weren’t signaling to one another properly, which he theorized was probably causing the neural degeneration that characterizes ALS.
After replicating these nerve cells multiple times and testing various drug compounds to see which would correct the electrical signaling problem, he found a candidate drug — an existing medication approved for epilepsy — that will be tested in ALS patients as soon as the end of this year.
Increasingly, though, companies are competing with medical institutions offering stem cell harvesting and preservation services. Parents seeking to preserve stem cells for their children are turning to the harvesting and preservation of umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells. Further, the harvesting of stem cells from adults for their future use in cellular therapeutic applications and/or tissue engineering needs has emerged as a growing facet of the stem cell market. Even further, companies are emerging that offer patients the opportunity to clone their own line of embryonic stem cells.
The real medical challenge is, however, to uncover which type of cell therapy best addresses each particular medical condition. With numerous experiments and huge amounts of money involved, scientists and researchers have yet to come up with the most cost-effective ways to deliver stem cells.
For our relevant BCC Research stem cell report, visit the following link: