Stem cell research continues to grow by leaps and bounds. With each passing month there are innovations that dramatically expand the scope of illnesses and conditions that may be.
Originally stem cell therapy was designed to treat cancers, such as leukemia, giving hope to many patients who could not be treated with conventional medicine. Over time, stem cell therapy was extended to the orthopedic sphere. Increasingly, stem cell therapy is being used instead of standard knee replacements, successfully cutting costs and recovery time and improving overall patient outcomes. And, now, stem cell therapy is being used in even more conditions.
Stem Cells and Fertility Treatments
For example, infertility is a serious problem that affects millions of Americans each year. Some studies suggest that up to 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. Often, the only way to treat this infertility is via costly in vitro fertilizations. Many insurance companies do not cover these treatments and many middle class couples simply cannot afford to pay these expenses out-of-pocket. However, recent research suggests that there may be a viable alternative to in vitro treatments. Stem cell research has given additional insight into how sperm cells evolve and develop in the testes — and, it also offers insight into how and why some men may not develop high quality sperm.
Although many people assume that fertility problems are usually on the women’s side, fertility challenges are frequently on the male side of the equation. If researchers are able to better understand sperm production, then they could address these production issues in a meaningful manner.
This research into sperm cells was not the only notable breakthrough in August of 2018.
Stem Cells and Blood Vessels
As the American population ages and more and more people battle Type II diabetes, wound healing, or more accurately, the lack of wound healing, has become a topic of increasing medical concern. According to many medical professionals, wound healing is hampered by a deficiency in the number of blood vessels. Improved blood flow helps a wound heal. But, blood flow depends on the presence of blood vessels. This new technology to stimulate new blood vessels depends on both stem cells and what is described as a two-dimensional clay, or a nanosilicate. This nanosilicate will hold together stem cells and other essential proteins, allowing blood vessels to form and ideally promoting healing.
In addition to healing, another health problem that impacts large portions of the population is heart attacks and heart disease. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States.
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Heart Attacks and Stem Cell Therapy
As noted above, heart attacks and heart disease are troubling diseases that impact large portions of the American population, particularly older individuals and males. In early stages of these illnesses, the diseases may be addressed by lifestyle changes, such as adopting a diet that is lower in fat and cholesterol and encouraging individuals to embrace exercise and other healthier habits. However, at later stages of the illnesses, surgical interventions are increasingly common. These surgical interventions often have serious consequences for patients and can cause high costs for both the patients and our country’s health care system. Therefore, any alternative treatments are eagerly embraced by the medical community.
Researchers and doctors have already begun to explore if and how stem cell therapies can be used to treat heart attacks.
One recent study has been carried out on young piglets. In this study, the piglets were given induced heart attacks and the youngest of the piglets (those under three days of age) were able to self-heal. According to the researchers who headed up this project, these results have real implications for how doctors approach various heart health issues. First, the researchers suggest that this demonstrates the importance of treating congenital heart issues immediately after birth when stem cells can play a critical contributing factor in the treatment process. Second, the study results also indicate that stem cells could be used in adults after a heart attack to promote heart muscle regeneration.
If stem cell therapy does prove to be effective in rebuilding heart muscle tissue after a heart attack, then this breakthrough could literally re-invent how doctors treat heart attacks.
Another important breakthrough area in stem cell research during August was how stem cell therapy could potentially be used to treat breast cancer.
Stem Cell Therapy and Breast Cancer
In recent decades, oncological treatment for breast cancer has improved dramatically, and long-term survival rates have soared. However, there are still certain aggressive forms of breast cancer that do not respond well to either radiation or chemotherapy. Therefore, researchers continue to look at alternative methods to effectively treat these types of breast cancer. One potential alternative is stem cell therapy.
Recent research has again noted the similarity between embryonic stem cells and malignant cancer cells. Recognizing these cellular similarities may be the first step in coming up with an effective treatment protocol for these aggressive cancers. However, even though this research looks promising, it is important to note that it is still at an early stage … significant research still needs to be carried out. In the long-term, though, this breakthrough could have applications to a wide range of other cancers (not simply aggressive breast cancers).
Although a large amount of stem cell research is focused on illnesses and diseases that impact a large number of people, research is also being conducted into rarer conditions. This opens up hope and opportunity for many patients who previously felt hopeless.
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Stem Cell Treatments and Rare Diseases
As noted above, stem cell research has largely tended to focus on ‘common’ problems, such as orthopedic issues, heart disease, and various cancers. However, this new technology may have significant implications for people who suffer from rare conditions. For example, research in Germany suggested that stem cell treatment can be a highly effective approach for treating herPAP , hereditary pulmonary alveolar proteinosis. Again, these herPAP results are early stage animal testing, meaning that additional research needs to be carried out before this treatment protocol can be implemented in human subjects.
Stem cell therapy and its accompanying technology continue to grow at an impressive pace. These technological advances have opened up new opportunities and hope for people who have diseases that were previously untreatable or were treatments had significant costs. Results from August of 2018 give increasing hope to people suffering from infertility and heart diseases, as well as patients who have rare illnesses, such as herPAP. Many of these promising results are still at early stages of the research process. However, early success hopefully portends success in future human clinical trials.