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Stem Cell Therapy

posted Dec 5, 2014, 1:21 AM by Ranmini Perera
At the beginning, apart from rites and rituals, healing of the sick was mainly by using herbs. The process was tedious and the healing was slow but the side effects were at a minimum. Administering drugs , extracted from natural resources or synthesized was the modus operandi of western medicine. These were more potent but the side effects were severe especially if not prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Surgical operations prior to 1820 had many casualties.

With the introduction of the germ theory by Louis Pasteur (Fr.) the doctors were able to identify the cause of many diseases. Cleanliness in hospitals and sterilization advanced by Ignaz Semelweiss (Hung) and Louis Pasteur (UK) drastically reduced the death rates after surgery. A very important milestone in medicine was the discovery of Penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928.Discovery of Nuclear Radiation paved the way for Radio therapy and diagnostic appliances such as X’ ray machines, endoscopy units and cat scans.

Then came the technique of organ transplanting. The first kidney transplant was in 1954.but the real breakthrough was the substitution of Louis Washansky’s diseased heart with that of  the dead girl Denise Darvali by Dr Christian Barnard. (SA)   Although  the man survived only for fourteen days the news criss-crossed the globe causing an uproar.

Transplanting has become very popular today, but it has many draw backs. So scientist were out to explore other possibilities of healing the in-efficient or corrupt organs and tissues. One such method is the ‘stem cell’ treatment.

What are ‘stem cells’?

These are rudimentary cells which have to be trained or modified for a special function in the body. These can replicate any number of times without losing vim and vogour unlike other human cells. There are  three kinds of cells (up to 21/11/07) used for research. Today an on line news item declared that another kind has been obtained from mature skin cells.

Types of stem cells.

    1. Embryonic stem cells. ESC

    2. Adult stem cells……..ASC

    3. Umbilical cord blood cells

    4. Menstrual blood stem cells

    4. Converted adult stem cells.(Since Nov. 2007)

1. Embryonic stem cells. ESC

When a female reproductive cell , the egg, gets fertilized, it becomes an embryo. This divides into two, then four and so on producing a mass of identical cells. Such a cluster of cells called a ‘blastoplast’ then adhere to the mother’s womb and start a parasitic life. The cells in it may be removed for medical applications. The doctors do not have a free hand on this as  the process would amount to an abortion.

A way out is to get the donated human egg cells, from a family planning clinic fertilize them in vitro and grow them in culture for four days until the blastoplast stage is reached. The stem cells inside could be withdrawn with a syringe and used without leaving room for objections.

2. Adult stem cells.

 Some stem cells are found in most of the organs in adults too. These are capable of developing into cells required by the particular organ. For example a stem cell in the brain can develop into a ‘neuron’, a specialized brain cell. Epithelial cells for the villi in the small intestine are formed from the stem cells in the ‘crypt’ regions. 

There is lot of promise with regard to these cells though they are not so adaptable as ESCs. There had been some progress in the use of these for the treatment of diabetes and Parkinson.

3.  Umbilical cord blood cells.

Umbilical cord of a new born baby has some maternal blood. This blood may be collected, with the permission of the mother. Dr. Randall Urban says “We are not sure why stem cells exist in U C B or whether they circulate in everyone."

Stem Cell Therapy Vs Organ transplanting

In stem cell therapy stem cells are introduced to the diseases organ. In many cases it has been found that the host organ adopts the new cells and converts them to suit its requirements. This is much simpler than organ transplanting. It is not easy to get organs that will tally with the patients exact requirements. The patient’s immunity system has to be weakened by drugs to prevent rejection. Connecting all the veins, arteries and nerves of the organ is a very tedious and a time consuming process. On the other hand, inserting of stem cells can be performed just like giving an injection. The rejection tendencies are very low.

A few success stories

October 25, 2007

Eye surgeon Virendar Sangwan has perfected a procedure so cutting-edge that most who have tried it have failed. In an operating theater in the central Indian city of Hyderabad, he surgically implants corneas grown in a petri dish from stem cells by his colleague Geeta Vemuganti in patients with damaged eyes. Together they perform about 80 corneal regeneration procedures a year, making the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute where they work one of the most prolific facilities in the world using stem cells to regenerate tissue of any kind. .

An extract from an Advertisement.

Warnings

As all stem cells have the ability to multiply in an unlimited manner unlike the other cells, which are destined to die, they could easily turn into cancer cells. So some doctors have cautioned that much more research has to be done prior to begin this kind of treatment in a big way.

        An up-dated version of what was published in the ISLAND S.L on 6/11/2005.

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