The 2012 presidential election process has come to an end. Much time and rhetoric has been allocated to our country’s economic crisis and healthcare reform. Unfortunately, little time was spent discussing an investment in research that could greatly help reduce overall U.S. health care costs and improve the quality of life for many Americans.
Stem cell medicine is proving to be a successful treatment for not just rare diseases that affect a minority of the population. Stem cell-based therapies have also shown positive results in dozens of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, liver failure, blindness, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, blood diseases, arthritis, traumatic brain injury, cardiac failure, spinal cord injuries and burns.
Stem cells are the foundation or building block of our body’s entire cell production. They naturally regenerate more cells to repair or replace damaged cells to heal. Depending on the type of stem cell, it makes more of the same cell to self-renew or more of other types of cells to differentiate. Since many debilitating medical conditions are caused by a malfunction during the cell division process, stem cell medicine development and progress holds significant promise.
Many in the medical community believe that every organ in our body has its own unique type of stem cells. The controversy that surrounds stem cells is the use of a specific type of stem cell called embryonic stem cells (ES). These cells come from human embryos and can be regenerated to create a large quantity of cells. This ability to create an unlimited amount of cells is important for stem cell transplants which require large amounts of stem cells to complete the procedure. However, due to the nature of this unlimited cell division, ES cells can also regenerate to form tumors. The excitement generated around ES cells is their ability to make many different types of cells for any organ type – blood, bone, skin, liver, kidney, brain, and heart among others.
Few people have an issue with tissue-derived stem cells (adult stem cells). These stem cells come from tissue in small quantities and they regenerate to become cells in the same tissue. Unlike ES cells, the ability for adult stem cells to divide in large numbers is limited. Since some stem cell treatments require large amounts of stem cells, there can ultimately be a supply and demand issue for adult stem cells. This has created the need for stem cell banking. There are companies that specialize in storing your own stem cells for a future medical crisis. Recently, Governor Rick Perry of Texas underwent an experimental stem cell procedure using his own adult stem cells to relieve back pain from an injury.
A new type of stem cell has been identified called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells. iPS cells are adult cells that have been reprogrammed to perform like an ES cell.
iPS cells can originate from a patient’s own body and injected back into the same patient without the risk of the immune system rejecting the stem cells. Similar to ES cells, iPS cells can be created to be any type of cell in the human body.
It has been determined that even cancer cells have their own stem cells. Many researchers believe that a cancer stem cell must be totally destroyed to ensure that there is not a recurrence of the cancer.
Pharmaceutical companies are buying stem cells to conduct research on new drugs in their pipeline to test for dangerous drug side effects.
FDA-approved clinical trials are necessary to ensure safety and effectiveness of stem cell treatments. To find current stem cell trials you can visit http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/.
Stem cell medicine can play a major role in our battle to reduce healthcare costs. In the U.S. we spend approximately $450 billion a year on health care for chronic diseases. Approximately $15 billion annually is spent solely on Type 1 diabetes care. The National Institute of Health (NIH), which is the official U.S. agency for medical research, has a total annual budget of approximately $30 billion for all medical research. A greater investment in stem cell medicine research may ultimately provide a better quality of life for individuals living with a chronic disease while also reducing our health care costs.
For more information about the advances of stem cell medicine you can review highlights from presentations delivered at the annual World Stem Cell Summit which will be held December 3-5 in West Palm Beach, Florida. International leaders in research, business and advocacy will focus on how to accelerate access to stem cell therapies.