The use of stem cells to help treat many different human conditions is actively being researched on in this day and age. The interesting thing here is that stem cell therapy has progressed so much that it is cleared for early clinical trials.
You see, in theory, stem cells can turn into any type of cell in the body, which means that, given the right conditions, they are able to repair and recover what is damaged or lacking in the body. However, how does that translate into practice?
Stem Cells: Promising Yet Problematic
Many studies that focused on the use of stem cells in animals didn’t really translate that well in human trials. Even though stem cell therapy showed a lot of promise on animal subjects, the researchers were not able to see positive gains in early human trials.
One of the main reasons for this is that the transplanted stem cells have low survival rates, especially when they are injected in the area of the damage or in the area where they’re needed the most. Researchers are now contemplating whether or not that has to do with the number of stem cells transplanted.
Although measures of using biomaterial scaffolds and inducing the pluripotency of adult stem cells, it didn’t yield any favorable results because the supposed therapeutic effect of the cells is augmented when doing these procedures.
Before the stem cells can be used in a therapeutic sense (especially in human trials), there are some important topics that have to be addressed first.
One is that the mechanism for its therapeutic effects must first be defined. Researchers in the past have theorized that stem cells will differentiate into specialized cells when they are already transplanted in the body. Furthermore, these cells would mimic the ones that are within a local phenotype, which will then initiate the repair and recovery process. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research and data that can support this claim.
It is likely that a complex signaling network is at play here which will help turn the stem cells into cells that are needed by the body the most. One way for this to happen would be for the transplanted cells to secrete paracrine factors and this can, theoretically, be done whenever the signaling network that is within the damaged area is stimulated.
Another area of concern would be the total safety of stem cell therapies. Even though cell transplants are generally considered to be safe, there is no substantial data that can truly attest to the safety and efficacy of such treatments.
Lastly, stem cell treatments should, in a way, be standardized and its characteristics are fully known before they are administered. This is so that subsequent studies can copy exactly how a certain treatment is made or administered.
The main goal of regenerative medicine is to heal the patient without the need for invasive procedures like surgery, for example. Stem cells could provide that, but because we still do not fully know its safety and its effects, only time will tell if they are indeed what they are set out to be.