The Potential Is There
If you look at the big picture, there is truly no limit to the number of diseases that stem cell therapy could treat. Researchers are able to study all cell types, so breakthroughs can and have happened for several diseases. If you look online for a list of stem cell cures you’ll come across multiple success stories, but the truth is, very few treatments have actually been proven safe and effective. Outside of blood cell transplantation for treating blood and immune system disorders, most other treatments are experimental. There’s been some success with treating bone, skin, and eye injuries by implanting or grafting tissue as well.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
If the cancerous changes take place in a type of marrow cell that creates lymphocytes, then it’s considered lymphocytic. When the cell change takes place in a type of marrow cell that creates red blood cells, then it’s called myeloid. Stem cell transplantation can be used as a treatment for all of the four types.
The transplant procedure begins with a patient having blood or bone marrow collected, frozen, and stored. Keep in mind that the blood can either come from the patient or a donor. Afterward, the patient begins receiving high-dose chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment all over the body. This process is done to kill off any cancer cells in the body and to also get rid of the normal cells too. Once that’s done, the frozen stem cell blood is thawed and put into the body via a blood transfusion.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, if an allogeneic stem cell transplant is done during the first remission, the 5-year disease-free survival rate is 30%-50%. If there’s been no recurrence at 2 years after the stem cell transplant, the person has about an 80% chance of staying in complete remission for a long period of time.
Cord blood has been used to treat both types of lymphoma. It’s considered a very rich source of stem cells for transplantation. After being collected from the placenta and umbilical cord, the cord blood is stored and frozen until it’s needed. Similar to the transplantation done for leukemia, patients will undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy to kill off the cells. Once all the cells have been removed from the body, the cord blood is injected into the body.
Research has shown that patients who use cord blood have fewer instances of graft-versus-host-disease transmission. However, bone marrow and peripheral blood are useful forms of stem cell transplantation for these conditions as well.
One study analyzed the outcomes of 270 adult recipients receiving autologous stem cell transplants and allogeneic skin cell transplants for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma between the years 2000 and 2010. Five-year overall survival rates for B and T cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were 58% and 50%.
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A 2014 study published by The National Institute of Health reviewed 30 people with the condition between the ages of 16 and 65. All of these individuals had undergone a bone marrow transplant. They found that 26 of the 30 people were cured of sickle cell disease.
As clarified with the case for Joe, the bone marrow transplant is easier the younger you are.
Several physicians believe that individuals with aplastic anemia should receive stem cells from bone marrow versus those harvested from peripheral blood. Research shows that using the former actually decreases the risk of graft-versus-host-disease. All transplants are allogeneic, which means the stem cells have to come from a donor.
A clinical trial completed in 2016 that included 16 patients with aplastic anemia found that all had been cured following the bone marrow transplant. One year later those individuals were no longer taking immunosuppressant drugs and were disease free.
Stem Cell Therapy May Cure These Diseases, Too
The above diseases illustrate that there are some conditions out there that have stem cell therapy as a known treatment option. However, the list will continue to grow as research expands and technology improves. Embryonic stem cells have a lot of potential, but there’s still a lot of controversies out there about it. Outside of the controversy, there’s hope that embryonic stem cells could one day cure the following:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injury
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Another option that researchers are looking into is induced pluripotent stem cells. For now, they’re largely used to test out drugs for various diseases, which is helpful. However, if they’re able to be used in place of embryonic cells, then people are much more likely to be accepting of stem cell therapy.
For now, it’s amazing and groundbreaking that stem cells can potentially cure conditions that were once known as deadly. It’s exciting to see what the future holds.