Genetic Engineering - Cloning, DNA, Stem Cells Pros and Cons
Molecular genetics

The future technology

Stem Cell Treatments

Many Medical researchers believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to change the face of human disease and alleviate suffering. A number of stem cell treatments exist, although most are still experimental and/or costly, with the notable exception of bone marrow transplantation.

Medical researchers anticipate one day being able to use technologies derived from adult and embryonic stem cell research to treat cancer, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, spinal cord injuries, and muscle damage, as well as a number of other diseases and impairments.

Several very promising treatments of serious diseases have already been attempted, using adult stem cells. The advantage of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells is that there are no rejection issues, because the stem cells are normally taken from the patient.

However, there still exists a great deal of social and scientific uncertainty surrounding embryonic stem cell research. This will, most likely, only be overcome through years of intensive research and by gaining the acceptance of the public.

Furthermore, many technical difficulties remain which hinder the ultimate goals in stem cell therapeutics. Expanding stem cell populations extracted from patients remains a large problem.

Also, even once these populations are expanded, implanted stem cells may not expand or grow efficiently enough to add enough corrective factor to be beneficial for treatment. These and other technical problems remain to be solved.

Current treatments

For over 30 years, bone marrow, and more recently, umbilical cord blood stem cells have been used to treat cancer patients with conditions such as leukemia and lymphoma. During chemotherapy, most growing cells are killed by the cytotoxic agents.

These agents not only kill the leukemia or neoplastic cells, but also the haematopoietic stem cells within the bone marrow. It is this unfortunate side effect of the chemotherapy that the Stem Cell Transplant attempts to reverse; the donor's healthy bone marrow reintroduces functional stem cells to replace those lost in the treatment. In all current Stem Cell treatments obtaining Stem Cells from a matched Donor is preferable to using the patients own.

If (always as a last resort and usually because no matched Donor can be found) it is deemed necessary for the patients own stem cells to be used and the patient has not stored their own collection of stem cells (umbilical cord blood), bone marrow samples must therefore be removed before chemotherapy, and are re-injected afterwards.

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