Eight health conditions you never knew stem cells could treat
You may have read about the extraordinary healing properties of stem cell therapy but did you know that it could, at some point in the future, prevent you from going blind, mend fractured bones and cure diabetes?
Let’s take a look at some of the more exciting ways in which stem cell therapy may one day benefit your health.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the collective term for a range of similar conditions that affect social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. It includes Asperger syndrome. The exact causes of ASD are not known and there are currently no cures – but ongoing research with stem cells could offer some hope. A US trial is looking at the use of cord blood infusions to help repair and regulate a faulty immune system, a problem which has been linked to children with autism. Another research programme is investigating how umbilical cord blood stem cells could promote the repair of damaged or dysfunctional areas of the brain.
Research in the UK has found that, by the age of 40, one in 100 women are likely to have gone through early menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), with some experiencing the condition as early as their teens. POI causes the ovaries to stop working and sufferers to lose the ability to menstruate, ovulate and have children using their own eggs. They can also suffer menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings. The onset of POI has been linked to an auto-immune reaction, or to certain genetic conditions, and stem cell therapy could provide a solution. US clinical trials are looking at how injecting stem cells into the dormant ovary may resurrect activity. In studies published so far, the results have been promising, with two participants having experienced a rise in oestrogen levels and the resumption of their period within six months.
Diabetes is approaching global epidemic proportions. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have some of the world’s highest rates of type 2 diabetes, the form closely linked to diet and lifestyle, with the UAE having the second highest prevalence in the world, predicted to reach 21.9% in 2025. Type 1 diabetes, caused when the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells, is more complex, but clinical trials are currently looking at how cord blood stem cells can help treat it, by helping to increase the number of regulatory T cells in the blood. This would keep the immune response stable and prevent it from sabotaging insulin production. Meanwhile, researchers in Canada are looking at how stem cells can help the pancreas regenerate and boost its ability to produce insulin, which, along with dietary changes, supplementation and regular exercise, could help to reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes.
This would keep the immune response stable and prevent it from sabotaging insulin production.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) occurs when nerve cells in the brain (neurons) become damaged or destroyed. The condition leads to difficulties with recall, language, problem-solving and other cognitive skills. Over time, symptoms such as confusion, mood swings or memory loss develop and become increasingly severe. Researchers are investigating how stem cells can replace damaged or destroyed neurons and emulate their ability to produce more neurotrophins – proteins that help neurons grow and survive – which studies have shown to be present in lower levels in patients with AD.
The dream of restored sight for the blind could come true in the future, thanks to stem cell technology. Researchers are looking at how stem cells could help treat a range of eye problems, including macular degeneration, a disease of the retina, which is the leading cause of visual impairment and irreversible blindness. Scientists have already successfully guided stem cells into becoming retina cells in a laboratory and it is hoped that these cells could go on to be delivered into a diseased eye to replace or preserve damaged retina cells. Stem cells are also being used to help treat Sjorgren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that predominantly affects women, causing excessive dryness in the tear ducts, among other symptoms.
Scientists have already successfully guided stem cells into becoming retina cells in a laboratory and it is hoped that these cells could go on to be delivered into a diseased eye to replace or preserve damaged retina cells.
Spinal cord injuries, caused mostly by car accidents and falls, can lead to severe disability, morbidity and mortality, impacting on sensory, motor and reflex function. According to a 2016 American report, stem cell therapy is a rapidly evolving and very promising treatment for spinal-cord injuries. It is used to stimulate growth from existing cells and replace injured cells in the spinal column. Clinical research is currently underway to investigate the different types of stem cells and their effectiveness in helping to restore spinal function.
Joint replacement surgery
Undergoing a replacement of the knee or hip is now considered standard treatment for acute joint problems caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or injury. This form of treatment is not only invasive and involves a lengthy rehabilitation, it also has a huge impact on the healthcare system because of other medical issues that can arise from the operation. Research is underway into the use of stem cell therapy as a viable alternative to invasive joint replacement surgery. The affected area is injected with new stem cells to promote natural healing by replacing and reinforcing the damaged or diseased cells. The treatment can also help reduce pain and inflammation, increase blood flow and promote soft tissue growth.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 5-10% of bone fracture cases involve patients who either have delayed healing or fractures that do not heal. Osteoporosis (brittle bones) and fragility fractures pose a major public health burden throughout the Middle East and Africa, and one that is forecast to grow exponentially as the population ages. Stem cells injected directly into a wound site have been shown to help with new bone growth and the therapy has been used successfully to treat bone fractures that have otherwise proven resistant to healing.
The therapy has been used successfully to treat bone fractures that have otherwise proven resistant to healing.
As research continues to hint at an ever-broadening range of diseases and physiological conditions for which stem cell therapy could provide a cure, the banking of umbilical cord blood on the birth of your baby becomes an increasingly important consideration. The non-invasive procedure is offered by a growing number of clinics around the world, including here in the Middle East.
As you plan for the arrival of your newborn, this is one consideration worth building into your birth plan.
Curing blindness with stem cells:
Stem Cell Therapy in Orthopedic Surgery: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5253188/
Stem cell therapy for premature menopause:
Smart Cells is the UK’s first private cord blood storage company, helping parents from across the world take the pioneering decision to store the stem cells of their babies for greater security of health. For more information on umbilical cord blood banking or to organise a consultation, please click here to find the number of the office nearest to you, email us on UAE@smartcells.com, or click here.
About the author: Shamshad Ahmed, CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International.
Shamshad Ahmed is CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International Ltd. Opening in 2000, Smart Cells became the UK’s first private cord blood company – its goal to give parents more access to potentially life-saving treatment for their families. It is one of the UK’s largest private banks, operating across the globe and storing over 50,000 cord blood samples from people in over 70 countries. Shamshad started his career in finance and foreign exchange at Citibank before moving over to the world of clinical trials. He holds a BA from Nottingham Trent University, and he has been a member of the Young President’s Organization since 2008 – having served on the board for a number of those years.