Stem cells are primitive cells that are characterized by self-renewal and the capacity to differentiate into mature cell types. Scientists believe they may have the potential to cure diseases and improve the quality of life for many.
Uses of stem cells are rapidly expanding. Potential applications range from the use of stem cells in reversal and treatment of disease, to cell therapy, tissue regeneration, bioprinting, drug discovery, toxicology testing, clean meat production and more.
Eight Amazing Uses of Stem Cells
Do you know anyone with Cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or another chronic or acute condition? If so, you’re probably exploring all of the possibilities, from pharmaceuticals to cell therapy and beyond.
Let’s take a closer look at the uses of stem cells and how they are expanding in scope in each day.
1. Increased Understanding of How Diseases Develop
In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues. In adult organisms, stem and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing specialized cells.
Thus, one of the many benefits of stem cells is that they provide scientists with a method of better understanding how diseases develop.
Recent studies have given scientists the ability to use stem cells to be able to study what causes birth defects. They are using this information to develop new drugs with the hope of curing these birth defects.
Similarly, cancer stem cells are cells which give rise to clonal populations of cells that form tumors or disperse in the body. The abnormalities become worse as the dividing goes on.
The hope is that with further research into cancer stem cells, scientists will be able to understand why these cells are dividing and what we can do to potentially stop or reverse the behavior.
2. Cure Diseases
Stem cell therapy has been used for decades, with the first bone marrow transplant performed in 1956. This process involves using healthy blood-forming cells to replace the old damaged cells.
Stem cells may also have the potential to cure many other diseases, such as:
- Heart Disease
- Spinal cord injuries
- Hearing/ Vision loss
- And many more
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), in particular, are of therapeutic interest. This is because they avoid the ethical issues that surround embryonic stem cell research and repeated studies have found them to be immuno-privileged. They are also capable of migrating to sites of inflammation and exerting potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory effects.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) are another type of stem cell. These cells can become any cell within the human body, giving them enormous potential for use within regenerative medicine.
In 2013, RIKEN—a scientific research institute in Japan—launched the world’s first study of an iPS cell-derived therapeutic product for treating a type of vision loss.
By 2016, Cynata Therapeutics grabbed the honor of launching the world’s first clinical trial of an iPSC-derived cellular product.
Today, several other studies involving iPS cell-derived cellular products are underway. These include physician-led studies in Japan to treat heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, aplastic anemia, and more.
While current approvals of stem cell therapies are limited, stem cells have enormous potential. They can potentially replace neurons, produce insulin, and assist with the repair of cartilage, tissue, and organs.
This means treating a diverse range of diseases with stem cells could represent a plausible future reality.
3. Test New Drugs for Safety
A huge advantage of using stem cells is the ability to test new medications on human-generated cells. This way scientists can test for safety without harming any animals or test subjects in the process.
Today, the pharmaceutical industry is leveraging stem cell-derived cell types—such as heart, liver and brain cells—to conduct drug testing on human cell types.
Notably, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) have the potential to transform drug discovery by providing physiologically relevant human cells for new drug identification, validation, and screening.
iPS cells also allow for the creation of patient specific cell populations. This lets researchers perform laboratory testing to replicate disease conditions.
This approach assists with predicting whether specific genetic populations will (or will not) respond well to a drug candidate, a personalized medicine approach.
This method is already being used in the medical field today. Cancer cells are being tested for effectiveness on anti-tumor drugs.
The problem with this is that the conditions must be identical to compare samples. This is where they are falling short. More research needs to be done to prove the effectiveness of this new method of testing.
4. Generate New Stem Cells to Replace Diseased or Damaged Cells
With the potential ability to generate new cells and tissue, this alone could cure many of the world’s diseases.
Today, many people rely on having a donated organ or tissue to replace their damaged ones. The problem comes down to supply and demand. More people need these donated organs than what people are willing and able to give up.
With the emergence of stem cell therapy, this could potentially lead to a sustainable method of replacing organs and tissue. This could treat several diseases and conditions, including spinal cord injuries, burns, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
For example, people who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes could directly benefit from this type of treatment. When you have type 1 diabetes, the cells in your pancreas that would normally be producing insulin are being attacked by their own body.
With this new technology, scientists may be able to produce new cells that could produce insulin and transplant them into a patient.
There is still a great deal of research that needs to occur in this area, as most of it is still early-stage.
5. Research How Certain Cells Develop into Cancer
Finding causes of cancer initiation and progression is another use of stem cells. This year it is estimated that 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer.
Of that 1.8 million, 606,520 Americans are estimated to die from cancer. In the U.S, cancer is the second leading cause of death following only heart disease.
Under normal circumstances, genes communicate with cells and let them know when to divide and grow. When cancer develops, the cells start to divide and grow uncontrollably and do not die off.
This leads to tumors. Just like normal cells, cancer cells also need nutrients and oxygen to survive. The cancer cells then make new blood vessels to supply more blood to the tumor.
The tumor then starts to grow and spread to tissue surrounding the tumor. This is what is called invasive cancer. The cells sometimes break free from the tumor and travel around the body spreading cancer.
With the help of stem cells, scientists believe that they could study cancer more efficiently and potentially cure the disease.
On a related topic, hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is the use of multipotent hematopoietic stem cells to repopulate a person’s blood and immune system after they have been treated with chemotherapy.
HSCT is performed with bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood. It is a common and important part of many cancer protocols.
6. Find Causes of Genetic Defects in Cells
Numerous diseases develop in the fetus as stem cells differentiate into the wide range of tissues that form a human being. One of these diseases is sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic defect that affects your red blood cells. The red blood cells are defective and deformed.
When the red blood cells are deformed like this they cannot carry enough oxygen throughout the body. Leading to pain, infections, vision problems, and swelling.
Sickle cell anemia could also lead to several other complications including
- organ damage
- pulmonary hypertension
- and stroke
There is currently no cure for most people with sickle cell anemia.
If scientists were able to study these cells more effectively, then they could understand what causes this disease and potentially develop a cure.
7. Regenerative Medicine Applications
Instead of treating symptoms like traditional medicine, regenerative medicine aims to treats the root cause of the problem.
For example, there have been major advances in the use of autologous mesenchymal stem cells to regenerate human tissues, including:
- Bone fractures
- And more
There is also accelerating demand for exosomes and extracellular vesicles (EVs) derived from stem cells. This is because they can act as intercellular messengers and may be responsible for some of the therapeutic effects that we currently attribute to stem cells.
Nonetheless, further research is required in this area, because there are currently no FDA approved exosome or EV therapies.
There are also an enormous number of studies being undertaken with other types of stem cell and progenitor cells, including neural stem cells, embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and more.
8. Clean Meat Industry
Finally, the “clean meat” industry is focusing on solving the upcoming global demand for meat in an innovative way by using stem cells.
Specifically, stem and progenitor cells are being leveraged as a raw material to create ethically-produced, laboratory-generated meat.
Today, extensive research is being directed at using muscle precursor cells (satellite cells) and fat cells obtained from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for this purpose.
A European company, the UK’s Higher Steaks, is even using iPS cells. The benefit of this is the cells can proliferate and replicate infinitely, so the cells only need to be sourced from a single animal, one time.
Future Uses of Stem Cells
Clearly, stem cell uses are diverse and far-reaching These cells have become a foundational technology for a diverse range of cell-based products, therapies and applications.
As this field develops, stem cells will give undoubtably give hope to those with these diseases that are “incurable.”
If you are seeking a information about whether stem cells could help your medical condition, we recommend that you contact GIOSTAR, a global stem cell company that has treated a large number of patients.
You can reach them at this link to ask them your questions.