Without a doubt, stem cells are one of the biggest medical breakthroughs in the case of studying and treating various diseases. Because of them, researchers can better understand how disease develops and can create effective treatment options without testing it on an actual patient. It is because of these benefits that stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, is considered one of the most promising advancements in medicine for disease treatment.
Though stem cell therapy is still a relatively new developing medicine, studies and research are leading researchers to believe that stem cell therapy will be a humongous medical development that will benefit various patients dealing with a large number of diseases, injuries, and other ailments. While the most common stem cell treatment options are for various types of cancers, heart disease, and injuries, one approach has been less discussed. Here we’ll explore how stem cell therapy can treat Down Syndrome.
Down Syndrome Development
Down Syndrome occurs when a person is born with an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This changes how the body and brain develops, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the CDC also states that Down Syndrome continues to be the most common chromosomal disorder, with about 6,000 babies being born with Down Syndrome each year. Or in other words, 1 in very 700 babies born. Between 1979 and 2003, the number of babies born with Down Syndrome increased by 30%. It also seems the prevalence of Down Syndrome increases as the mother of the baby’s age increases.
Stem Cell Therapy for Down Syndrome
Though stem cell therapy treating Down Syndrome is still very early in development, there have been studies done that prove stem cell therapy could be an effective treatment. Data collected showed that over 300 Down Syndrome patients had been treated with neural stem cell therapy in some studies. The ages of the patients ranged from 8 months to 8 years. After these treatments, it was reported that the patients showed varied levels of improvement in intellectual development, speech, muscle strength, reaction velocity, and gait.
This year, doctors in New Delhi, India, treated a baby with Down Syndrome with stem cells. Geeta Shroff, a stem cell expert, noted that after the treatment, there were parts of the baby’s body that started improving, such as muscle tone and some movement. It was also noted the baby showed improvement mentally and physically in a relatively short period of time. This, according to Shroff, happened after three months of the treatment. Some examples of the improvements that developed in the baby after stem cell therapy included better muscle tone in all limbs, heightened babbling and crawling, and also recognizing those near him after the first session of stem cell therapy. Though this was only one case with stem cell therapy and Down Syndrome, researchers are hopeful this can be the beginning of a major breakthrough.
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It is also believed that with Down Syndrome, stem cell therapy can be effective in terms of targeting a specific gene before birth that could lead to a target treatment. This treatment would consist of reversing abnormal embryonic brain development and working to improve cognitive function after birth. This belief came about with a Rutgers-led study done using skin cells from a patient with Down Syndrome and manipulating them into human-induced pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells contained the extra copy of the 21st chromosome that leads to the development of Down Syndrome, and allowed scientists to further understand development of Down Syndrome, along with which gene to target for treatment. This would be the human chromosome 21 gene OLIG2. By using the induced pluripotent stem cells, scientists were able to create a brain model that mirrored the patients, and this provided for a great research point.
The Future with Down Syndrome and Stem Cell Treatments
As stem cell therapy is still relatively in development, there are still long strides to go before the treatments are deemed perfect for larger treatment. Stem cell therapies in general are still slowly being approved, and there is still plenty of research that needs to be conducted. One example would be Japan’s recent approval of stem cell therapies for the spinal cord. This approval was based largely on a study in which patients which were injected with stem cells extracted from their own bone marrow. The team leading this study found that the patients regained some movement and sensation. However, the approval for this stem cell therapy is garnering some concern due to lack of research and insufficient trials. Studies like the Rutgers-led study have proven that stem cells can be used to develop a greater understanding of Down Syndrome and targeting the specific gene for proper treatment.
The future of Down Syndrome and stem cell therapy still has a long road ahead. However, recent studies and research have shown that stem cell therapy may lead to a successful treatment of Down Syndrome. There is still plenty of trials and studies that must be conducted, but hopefully in time, further research and results can reassure scientists that stem cell therapy will be a healthy and safe treatment for Down Syndrome. If stem cell therapy proves to be successful and safe, his will no doubt be a medical breakthrough that will enrich the lives of many patients with Down Syndrome and lead to more successful treatment of this condition for future generations.
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