Major Diseases and Stem Cells

Author: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc 

Possibly the most exciting use of stem cells rests on their ability to differentiate into an enormous range of healthy functioning adult cells, thereby providing a replacement source of cells to treat serious diseases. This ultimately means that virtually any disease that results in cellular and tissue destruction can potentially be treated by stem cells. Some of the conditions are particularly debilitating and these include diabetes, spinal cord injuries, retinal disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and cancer.

 Heart Disease
Stem cell research into heart disease has shown some very promising results. The goal is to eventually replace all of the damaged heart tissue with healthy cells. Some of the initial research in laboratory animals such as mice has suggested that when adult stem cells derived from non-heart tissues are transplanted into a damaged heart, the cells were still able to give rise to healthy heart muscle cells. Directing stem cell differentiation is another important feature of research into heart disease. Some of the more recent studies have shown that it could be possible to guide the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into heart muscle cells.
People who are diagnosed with type I diabetes have abnormal insulin regulation. The pancreatic cells that would normally produce insulin are destroyed by the sufferer’s own immune system. Research is now suggesting that it may be feasible to control stem cell differentiation so that stem cells are guided in the laboratory to generate specialised cells capable of producing insulin. The hope is that these cells could be transplanted into diabetics, removing their need for insulin injection. Additional research is still needed to control the conditions necessary to direct cell growth, but findings thus far are positive.

Retinal Diseases

Retinal diseases vary widely but the consequences can range from mild effects on vision to complete and rapid onset of blindness. Scientists have recently been able to direct the growth of photoreceptor cells from stem cells. These photoreceptor cells are necessary for vision and scientists have been able to effectively introduce them into the retina. This progress is encouraging ….
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Source: Explore Stem Cells