The promise of stem cell therapy to treat and cure many conditions has already led to the proliferation of clinics offering unapproved and unproven treatments, sometimes putting patients at risk, and often at great expense.
Stem cells have the ability to develop into different types of cells, possibly replacing, repairing, or regenerating unhealthy tissues, and offer potential treatments or cures for many diseases that have few other treatment options.
Although treatments are not yet approved in the United States, here are some conditions that stem cells may prove to be useful for:
Alzheimer’s disease: Clinical trials are underway to evaluate stem cell therapy in Alzheimer’s patients. Studies have identified several potential mechanisms by which stem cells may fight the disease. Transplanted cells may replace diseased cells, stimulate the growth of new healthy cells, or stimulate immune response to diseased cells. A stem cell treatment has reportedly been approved for use in Japan.
Parkinson’s disease: This disease is caused by depletion of cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Stem cells that can replace these neurons may be able to reverse Parkinson’s disease. Embryonic stem cells have shown promise and other sources like induced pluripotent stem cells may be effective also. A clinical trial is underway to evaluate treatment with reprogrammed stem cells. More info here
Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin are destroyed. Transplantation of beta cell tissue has been used successfully but there is a lack of donors and transplants require immunosuppressive therapy and there is a risk of rejection. Stem cell therapy that could replace these cells may offer an alternative treatment for patients who currently are dependent on lifelong insulin therapy. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which presents another challenge also. If stem cells can replace destroyed beta cells, they may become immune system targets as well. For more information on stem cells and diabetes click here
For more information on stem cell safety click here