Evolving Medical Research
Stem cell therapy continues to grow and evolve, often at a dramatic pace. In December, scientists reported several new discoveries that offered hope to millions of people in the United States and around the world. Many of these discoveries are still in their initial stages, but in the months and years to come, research will continue.
Below some of the most impressive innovations and discoveries are discussed in greater detail.
Stem Cells and Cancer
In recent years, stem cell therapy has become a go-to treatment for many people who are dealing with blood cancers, such as leukemia. These therapies have improved life expectancy and boosted patients’ quality of life (although there are certain risks, such as Graft-versus-Host Disease, that still remain). But, some patients still experience relapses following stem cell treatment. Researchers have focused on attempting to identify why some patients experience cures following stem cell transplants, whereas other patients relapse.
Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have potentially identified a clue to why this is happening. These researchers announced that patients who experience a relapse often have lost their HLA proteins. HLA proteins help the body identify between healthy and unhealthy cells; and, they also work to help destroy these unhealthy cells. Without HLA proteins, the patient is susceptible to new cancer cells. By knowing the risk that this poses, doctors may be able to take proactive steps to boost the long-term efficacy of these stem cell transplants.
Again, more research needs to be carried out into how to maximize the positive role that stem cell therapy can play in effectively treating a wide range of cancers.
Where Are The Body’s Blood Cells Really Made?
One of the most surprising recent results was a discovery at Columbia University. For decades, doctors and scientists have believed that all the blood cells in the human body are produced in the body’s bone marrow. But, according to this recent study, it seems that the gastrointestinal tract produces a significant amount of the body’s blood cells. Up to 10 percent of the body’s total blood supply could come from a person’s gut.
This new knowledge could have a dramatic impact on people suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Most importantly, it could up the success rate for intestinal transplants. Currently, intestinal transplants are often not successful. The patient’s body often rejects them as foreign bodies and to counteract this risk of rejection, the patient may need a high level of immunosuppressive drugs. These drugs can make a patient susceptible to infections and other life-threatening complications.
Recognizing this fact about blood cell production, doctors may seed the transplanted intestine with additional cells from the donor’s body. This could dramatically reduce the risk of rejection and also cut the amount of immunosuppressive drugs that a patient may need, improving their quality of life across multiple measures.
It is worth noting that only 21 patients were included in the Columbia University study. Therefore, it is difficult to conclude how widely applicable the results are. In addition, researchers caution that more research work needs to be carried out before treatment protocols are changed.
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Other Results May Not Be as Surprising …
Other results may not be as surprising, but this does not mean that these results are no less important for patients and their loved ones. Many researchers believe that stem cell therapy can be an effective treatment tool for a wide range of diseases, such as ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and diabetes.
ALS and Stem Cells
ALS happens when a body’s motor neurons die. However, even before motor neuron death, the body’s axons begin to atrophy. Swedish researchers have begun to look at and explore this atrophy process. The researchers recognize that it is important to look at RNA in axons, but measuring the amount of RNA in axons can be extremely complicated. These researchers have gained insight into how to more effectively do this by looking at mouse- and human stem-cell generated axons. The researchers were able to determine that the amount of RNA in the axon and stem cell body differed dramatically. And, RNA also differs significantly between healthy and diseased cells.
If researchers are able to identify the disease process at an earlier stage, then they may be able to design more effective treatment options. However, again, additional research needs to be conducted.
Diabetes Type 1 and Stem Cells
Although public attention often focuses on Type 2 diabetes which usually develops in adults, in part due to lifestyle choices, there is another form of diabetes, Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes generally develops during childhood, and, in rare circumstances, it can happen within the first few months of the patient’s life. In these patients, there is often a gene mutation and this gene mutation can attack all insulin production within the body’s cells. But, the exact mechanism through which this attack happens has long been a mystery.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki were able to use stem cells and gene therapy to gain a better understanding of what happens in this stressed attack. And, ultimately, these researchers believe that this understanding will help them come up with more effective treatments for Type 1 diabetes. Again, more research needs to be conducted in human test subjects to find out how widely applicable these results will be.
And One Other Interesting Result
And, one other interesting result was related to stem cells that are found in the male’s testis. Research shows that for sperm to be produced that the stem cell count remains the same in the testis. Researchers have looked at better understanding how this constant number is maintained. This regulatory process is complex, yet, at the same time, researchers argue that it mirrors the mathematics of ecosystems. Study results are not simply relevant for sperm cells. The researchers argue that many of these principles could be applied to other areas, and, it may in fact be a critical breakthrough for situations in which constant levels of stem cell are important.
Researchers and medical professionals around the world recognize the importance of stem cell therapy as a potential breakthrough for countless medical diseases and conditions. To date, stem cell therapy has been used in areas, including: orthopedics (serving as an effective alternative for knee replacement surgery), cancer therapy, and post-stroke rehabilitation treatment. But, these are only some of the many areas in which stem cells may be able to dramatically and positively alter a patient’s life.
As technology continues to grow and evolve, and more researchers join the stem cell bandwagon, an increasing number of promising research results are released. And, recent weeks were no different. Researchers from around the world announced many exciting new discoveries. For example, researchers at Dana Farber in Boston may have unearthed the reason why some patients experience relapses after seemingly successful stem cell transplants for blood cancers. This may help doctors proactively identify ways to help maximize the likelihood of success. And, perhaps the most surprising result came from Columbia University. Columbia researchers discovered that not all blood is produced in the body’s bone marrow. Blood cells may also be produced in the gut. This knowledge may be the key to ensuring that intestinal transplants, which are currently complicated by high rejection rates and countless other medical problems, have a greater likelihood of success.
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