What are stem cells?
Stem cells are cells that can differentiate into other types of cells, offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, which boost longevity, fight ageing and are an invaluable asset in combating disease.
There are several types of stem cells that can be used for different purposes.
Embryonic Stem Cells (ES Cells)
Embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are three to five days old. They are harvested during a process called in-vitro fertilization. These cells can give rise to virtually any other type of cell in the body.
Non-embryonic (adult) stem cells
These stem cells come from developed organs and tissues in the body. They’re used by the body to repair and replace damaged tissue in the same area in which they are found.
Adult stem cells can’t differentiate into as many other types of cells as embryonic stem cells can.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can differentiate into all types of specialized cells in the body. This means they can potentially produce new cells for any organ or tissue.
To create iPSCs, scientists genetically reprogram the adult stem cells so they behave like embryonic stem cells.
The breakthrough has created a way to “de-differentiate” the stem cells. This may make them more useful in understanding how diseases develop.
Scientists are hoping that the cells can be made from someone’s own skin to treat a disease. This will help prevent the immune system from rejecting an organ transplant.
Cord blood stem cells and amniotic fluid stem cells
Cord blood stem cells are harvested from the umbilical cord after childbirth. They can be frozen in cell banks for use in the future.
These cells have been successfully used to treat children with blood cancers, such as leukemia, and certain genetic blood disorders.
Stem cells have also been found in amniotic fluid.
However, more research is needed to help understand the potential uses of amniotic fluid stem cells.
Stem Cells Transplantation
Stem cell transplantation, also known as bone marrow transplantation, is used to treat blood diseases such as aplastic anemia, bone marrow failure, and blood cancers, as well as to restore blood-forming cells in the body.
Types of stem cell transplantation
– Autologous stem cell transplantation
– Allogenic stem cell transplantation from the following sources:
- 100% Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matching (match-related donor)
- Donor with 1 to 3 points HLA mismatch (mismatch donor)
- Unrelated donor with 100% HLA matching (match-unrelated donor)
- Donor who is the recipient’s sibling, parent or child with 50% HLA matching (haploidentical donor)
Sources of stem cells
Stem cells are collected from the following sources:
- Bone marrow
- Placenta/cord blood
What diseases/ conditions can stem cells cure?
Autologous stem cell transplantation is used to treat the following diseases:
- Multiple myeloma – cancer of plasma cells
- Severe autoimmune diseases which cannot be controlled with medication
Allogenic stem cell transplantation is used to treat the following diseases:
- Aplastic anemia)
- paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)
- Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID)
- Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, which is an inherited immune system disorder
- Pure Red Cell Aplasia
- Amegakaryocytosis/Congenital Thrombocytopenia
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Inherited Metabolic Disorders
- Myelodysplastic Syndrome which is a disorder of blood cell production in the bone marrow
Stem cells transplantation procedures
Before Treatment: The patient will first be evaluated for eligibility. The physician will decide the type of treatment, set a treatment plan for before transplantation, and use chemotherapy and/or radiation in the preparation process.
During Treatment: The patient will be admitted to a special sterile room to reduce the risk of infection. The patient will then receive chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill abnormal cells (normal cells can also be damaged by the treatment).
After the chemotherapy and/or radiation, the peripheral stem cell transplantation will be administered. It also takes time for the bone marrow or stem cells to work properly.
The patient will need to be under close observation and take precautionary measures so as to prevent possible complications.
Risks and complications
- Infection from low immunity during transplantation process
- Graft versus host disease which is commonly associated with allogeneic transplantation
- High doses of chemotherapy possibly affecting organs and causing life-threatening side effect
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