Stem Cell Therapy


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•  Use of stem cells to treat Stargardt’s disease and one other named condition

Stem cells can be used to replace damaged or diseased cells with healthy, functioning ones

This process requires:

  • The use of biochemical solutions to trigger the differentiation of stem cells into the desired cell type
  • Surgical implantation of cells into the patient’s own tissue
  • Suppression of host immune system to prevent rejection of cells (if stem cells are from foreign source)
  • Careful monitoring of new cells to ensure they do not become cancerous

Examples of Stem Cell Therapy

1.  Stargardt’s Disease

  • An inherited form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss to the point of blindness
  • Caused by a gene mutation that impairs energy transport in retinal photoreceptor cells, causing them to degenerate
  • Treated by replacing dead cells in the retina with functioning ones derived from stem cells

2.  Parkinson’s Disease

  • A degenerative disorder of the central nervous system caused by the death of dopamine-secreting cells in the midbrain
  • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for transmitting signals involved in the production of smooth, purposeful movements
  • Consequently, individuals with Parkinson’s disease typically exhibit tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement and postural instability
  • Treated by replacing dead nerve cells with living, dopamine-producing ones

3.  Other Therapeutic Examples

  • Leukemia:  Bone marrow transplants for cancer patients who are immunocompromised as a result of chemotherapy
  • Paraplegia:  Repair damage caused by spinal injuries to enable paralysed victims to regain movement
  • Diabetes:  Replace non-functioning islet cells with those capable of producing insulin in type I diabetics
  • Burn victims:  Graft new skin cells to replace damaged tissue

Examples of Therapeutic Stem Cell Use

Examples of stem cell therapy

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•  Ethics of the therapeutic use of stem cells from specially created embryos, from the umbilical 

   cord blood of a new-born baby and from an adult’s own tissues

Stem cells can be derived from one of three sources:

  • Embryos (may be specially created by therapeutic cloning)
  • Umbilical cord blood or placenta of a new-born baby
  • Certain adult tissues like the bone marrow (cells are not pluripotent) 

The ethical considerations associated with the therapeutic use of stem cells will depend on the source

  • Using multipotent adult tissue may be effective for certain conditions, but is limited in its scope of application
  • Stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood need to be stored and preserved at cost, raising issues of availability and access
  • The greatest yield of pluripotent stem cells comes from embryos, but requires the destruction of a potential living organism

Artificial Stem Cell Techniques

Stem cells can be artificially generated via nuclear transfer or nuclear reprogramming, with distinct benefits and disadvantages

  • Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT): 
    • Involves the creation of embryonic clones by fusing a diploid nucleus with an enucleated egg cell (therapeutic cloning)
    • More embryos are created by this process than needed, raising ethical concerns about the exigency of excess embryos

  • Nuclear reprogramming:
    • Induce a change in the gene expression profile of a cell in order to transform it into a different cell type (transdifferentiation) 
    • Involves the use of oncogenic retroviruses and transgenes, increasing the risk of health consequences (i.e. cancer)

types of stem cell therapies