In this day and age, science has made a significant amount of progress towards treating or curing a number of debilitating disease, which means that the diseases that lack effective treatments at all are noticeable. Many may wonder why time seems to stand still regarding these diseases, why more progress hasn’t been made. The unfortunate fact is that it can be difficult for researchers to develop treatments for debilitating conditions like neurodegenerative diseases and organ failure, among other issues. People suffering from these conditions are in weak physical states, and often cannot withstand the stresses of clinical trials, which are crucial to uncovering new drug treatments and methods.
This is in part why stem cells offer such a tantalizing opportunity for scientists. Thanks to the fact that stem cells differentiate, which means that they can essentially become other types of cells, they offer the opportunity for medical experiments to be conducted without harming human “test subjects”. Furthermore, stem cells themselves can be a part of new treatments, stimulating new growth and rejuvenation in patients that have experienced damage due to illness or injury. Just as stem cells themselves produce new physical growth, they can also represent the opportunity for new growth and development in the medical field.
How Will Stem Cell Research Progress In The Future?
As the importance of stem cell research in future treatment developments becomes clear, it’s important to understand what sorts of cells, exactly, allow for this kind of research. These cells are called pluripotent stem cells, or stem cells that can become any type of cell in the body. They are derived from essentially encouraging the stem cells isolated from umbilical cord blood back to this state of “potential”.
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These cells are known as clinical grade cells, and they are developed specifically to be for human clinical trials. Developed under the watchful eye of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these cells are made following strict manufacturing guidelines. As clinical grade stem cells are produced, it will become easier for cell-based therapies to be approved. For that matter, it opens the door for new medical research in the long term.
What Is The Advantage Of Using Stem Cells To Test New Treatments?
Testing and experimentation is a part of developing new medical treatments, and in particular new drugs. It is impossible for drugs to be released to the medical market without them first being tested. Traditionally, the process involves drugs being tested on animals first, before moving on to human test subjects. Several issues hamper progress in this regard.
Even without taking into consideration the controversies surrounding animal testing, drugs can only be tested on animals once they’ve reached a somewhat later stage in the development process. Years and extensive funds are spent on a drug before it is moved on to animal trials, after which further years and funds are spent on gathering data from those trials. Nonetheless, even when primates, the closest relatives to humans, are used in clinical trials, it is always possible that an animal’s reactions to a drug will be vastly different from that of a human.
The Risk With Human Trials
Human trials are risky at best. As previously mentioned, a human test subject for many drugs must suffer, at least on some level, from the condition that the drug is meant to treat. Therefore, these test subjects are in weakened states. Many clinical trials have the potential to cause more harm than good, even if the perfected drug is ultimately beneficial.
And The Benefit of Stem Cells
The advantage of stem cells is that they can both accelerate the testing process and make it safer for human subjects. Essentially, the stem cells allow for testing on human cells before drugs are ready to be tested on human subjects themselves. If a drug is meant to treat liver diseases, for example, stem cells can “become” liver cells. They would then receive the experimental treatment in question, and react the way that liver cells would react within a test subject, without hurting the test subject itself. For that matter, stem cell banks include stem cells produced by people of a number of different genetic backgrounds. Researchers would therefore be able to see the effect that a drug would have on people from diverse backgrounds, before sending those drugs on to clinical trials. In the long term, animal testing could theoretically, in some cases, be replaced by tests on stem cells. This would save money, and enable beneficial drugs and treatments to reach patients at a faster rate.
How Do Stem Cells Aid Disease Research?
Before drugs and other treatments can be developed, scientists must first have the best possible understanding of how a disease works. In an ideal world, they would be able to study a disease from the moment of its inception, throughout its duration. However, this would mean allowing a disease to progress without treatment, never mind the aforementioned experimental treatments mentioned above. This would not only be a slow process, but would be considered unethical, and truly impossible.
By “infecting” stem cells with diseases, researchers can watch a disease’s progress and understand what to expect. In fact, this can be the first step of developing new treatments protocols in the future. Researchers will be able to map out a disease’s progression in stages. For that matter, they will be able to test out the reactions of specific cells to diseases. For example, a disease like Parkinson’s disease affects specific neurons, neurons that can be replicated, essentially, by stem cells. As scientists study the development of Parkinson’s disease, they can understand why exactly, and how exactly, these neurons deteriorate.
Of course, Parkinson’s disease is not the only ailment that can be studied through stem cells. A number of other neurodegenerative diseases can be studied, and for that matter, potentially cells affected by cancer. However, fertility issues can be particularly well-studied through stem cell development. As some researchers believe that the issues affecting fetuses can begin in early cellular development, studying embryonic cells could uncover the reasons behind infertility. Certainly, as many stem cells are embryonic stem cells to begin with, ignoring the opportunity to study infertility through stem cells would appear to be a missed opportunity.
Ultimately, the significance of developing stem cells and their effects on drug treatments cannot be understated. Without the use of stem cells, researchers will not be able to test potential drugs to their fullest extent before moving on to human clinical trials, and they certainly will not have as full an understanding of debilitating diseases as they could. By utilizing stem cells, scientists will be able to accelerate their research to previously unseen heights; and open the door to treatments, and even cures, to the diseases that concern society the most.
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