[Solved] Stem cell therapy is gaining popularity in India to treat a wide variety of medical condition including Leukaemia, Thalassemia, damaged cornea and severe burns. Describe briefly what stemcell therapy is and what advantages it has over other treatments? ( UPSC GS-3 Mains 2017)

[Solved] Stem cell therapy is gaining popularity in India to treat a wide variety of medical condition including Leukaemia, Thalassemia, damaged cornea and severe burns. Describe briefly what stemcell therapy is and what advantages it has over other treatments? ( UPSC GS-3 Mains 2017)

Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that can differentiate into specialized cells and can divide to produce more stem cells.

  • The ability of Stem Cells to self renew offers significant potential for generation of tissues that can potentially replace diseased and damaged areas in the body, with minimal risk of rejection and side effects.
  • Stem cell treatments are a type of intervention strategy that introduces new adult stem cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury.
  • Sources of Stem cells are: Bone Marrow, Peripheral blood stem cells, Amniotic Fluid and Umbilical Cord Blood.

 Advantages over other treatments are:

  • Lower risk of infection during the immune compromised portion of the treatment.
  • Speed up the length of time it takes for injuries or wounds to heal
  • Reduce pain, even chronic joint pain, with less need for medications
  • Increase functionality, range of motion, flexibility and sleep quality
  • Reduce muscle compensations and risk for future injuries
  • Decrease nerve damage
  • Increase collagen
  • Help generate new heart and blood vessel tissue
  • Help heal skin wounds, prevent formation of scar tissue and reduce hair loss
  • Return patients to their normal activities as quickly as possible

 ‘Stem Cell Therapy’ also known as ‘Regenerative Medicine’ promotes the reparative response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives. It is the next chapter of organ transplantation and uses cells instead of donor organs, which are limited in supply.

  • Stem Cells are being grown in a lab which is manipulated to specialize into specific types of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells or nerve cells. The specialized cells can then be implanted into a person. For example, if the person has heart disease, the cells could be injected into the heart muscle. The healthy transplanted heart cells could then contribute to repairing defective heart muscle.
  • This therapy is being used in treating various diseases like Thalassemia, damaged cornea, several burns and Leukemia. It is surprising to know that therapy using stem cells from various sources, including those from bone marrow and umbilical cord, have been successfully used to treat a number of (about 80) life threatening diseases with good results, since 1988.
  • Over the past few years, with increased research and development activities, a growing number of successful stem cell treatments have emerged. It has become one of the most exciting areas of medicine, encompassing all areas of current medical science.

Possible Advantages of Stem Cell Therapy over other form of treatment:

  • Self-renewal: stem cells can renew themselves almost indefinitely. This is also known as proliferation. This feature is absent if we transplant organs from one human being to another.
  • The potential for stem cells to replace damaged cells and tissues is an exciting one for those who will require a transplant during their lifetime. With less number of organ availability for transplant, many people suffer endlessly awaiting a transplant and other will die before they are able to receive one. Diseases that it is expected stem cells will treat one day include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as those diseases affecting the retina and heart.
  • Differentiation: stem cells have the special ability to differentiate into cells with specialised characteristics and functions for example – nerve cell or heart cell.
  • Unspecialised: stem cells themselves are largely unspecialised cells which then give rise to specialised cells.
  • In organ transplantation, our body’s defense system white blood corpuscles, which do not allow any foreign organ and outsider organs, are rejected by antibody. In such a situation, stem cell therapy will be very helpful which has the ability to change itself according to the required cell.
  • One reason that stem cells are important is due to human development from stem cells. As such, an understanding of their unique attributes and control can teach us more about early human development.
  • Diseases such as cancer are thought to result from abnormal cell proliferation and differentiation. This means that an understanding of where things go ‘wrong’ in stem cell division and thus lead to cancer can help us find ways to prevent the dysfunctional changes or employ effective ways to treat them with targeted drugs.
  • Though, stem cell therapy is seen as a future of medical treatment to treat various life threatening diseases. However, obtaining of stem cells from human embryos are seen as an unethical practice and charged it as a murder of a child. Also several religious institutions resented to the use of embryos for research. Use of adult stem cell faces the difficulty in extraction.
  • Clinical trials, human experimentation are not into practice yet, some of preliminary treatments like bone marrow transplant, cardiovascular treatments with stem cell have been demonstrated elsewhere is a sample for the success of the technology.  Hence, more research oriented work is required in this field in order to make this stem cell therapy more accessible.
  • This ability to repair and regenerate damaged cell is used in stem cell therapy for treatment of various diseases. In this therapy, stems cells are administered systematically and directly in high concentration in damaged tissues for self-healing. Stems cells for this purpose are obtained from the patient’s bone marrow, fat and umbilical cord tissue or blood. This therapy is being promoted as the next panacea for all ills.
  • Diseases that were earlier considered degenerative, incurable and irreversible are being treated with the help of stem cell therapy. The list includes diseases like diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease etc.
  • Blood stem cells are increasingly being used to treat diseases of the blood. Some methods of treatment like chemo therapy used in treatment of cancer destroys bone marrow also. Stem cell transplant can be used to replace such bone marrow.

 India is among the frontrunner in stem cell therapy. Clinical trials are being performed to treat genetic, metabolic and blood related conditions. Stem cell has the potential to replace expensive, painstakingly protracted and routinely ineffective conventional therapy for treating a multitude of acute and chronic ailments.

 Working of stem cell therapy

  • Human body contains certain type of cells known as Stem cells that have the ability to develop into any form of advanced cells such as blood cells, nerve cells, muscle cells etc.
  • The harvested Stem cells from an individual is cultured in laboratory medium to form advanced cells and finally complex tissues and organs.
  • These organs can be used in organ transplant as well as other treatment methods for rare diseases.
  • The Stem cells are usually present in placenta of a new born child, which can be harvested and stored in stem cells banks for future use.
  • Advantages of Stem cell therapy over other methods
  • Higher success rate
  • In comparison to other measures such as organ transplant or bone marrow transplant, Stem cell therapy has better rate of success. This is because the cells are obtained from the patient himself and the body responds positively to the change.
  • Treats rare diseases
  • Rare diseases like Thalassemia, leukaemia etc need non conventional treatment methods that can provide long term relief. This involves transplant of healthy donor cells into the body that can replace the faulty cells. These donor cells are the result of stem cell harvest.
  • Minimal recovery time and side effects
  • One can say that Stem cell therapy avoids life time medications for suppressing body immune system due to its non-foreign origin. In addition, since there is low effects on body the recovery time is also very less.

 further reading…

 Stem-cell therapy is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition. Bone marrow transplant is the most widely used stem-cell therapy, but some therapies derived from umbilical cord blood are also in use. Research is underway to develop various sources for stem cells, and to apply stem-cell treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.

Advantage of this treatment over the other conventional treatment is instead killing cell it replace the entire cell so that it regenerate further. Sometimes it eliminates the problem of organ donation, a single cell translate into any of the multiple cell so a single cell worked as multiple organs. It also cures some organs for which replacement of entire part is not possible for example human brain, bone marrow. Technically it is challenging task but it is a simple procedure without involving into complex surgeries. It provides the permanent solutions.

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