Before I begin this discussion on stem cell therapy,
I want to qualify that there are two forms of stem cell
treatment. One uses adult stem cells, the other controversial
embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, whilst subject
to a lot of heated public opinion are undeniably an
integral part of future anti-aging medicine.
What are Stem Cells
Video - Understanding Stem Cells [7:52]
Adult Stem Cells
An adult stem cell is a cell found in a very specific
part of tissue or organs, the "stem cell niche".
A stem cell does not divide and duplicate itself in
the same rate as other cells, unless activated by a
normal need for more cells to maintain tissues, or by
disease or tissue injury.
However a stem cell does renew itself and can 'differentiate'
to yield some or all of the major specialized cell types
of the tissue or organ. Their role is to maintain and
repair the tissue in which they are found. Adult stem
cells are also known as somatic stem cells.
Some experiments have also reported that certain adult
stem cell types can differentiate into cell types of
organs or tissues other than those of residence. Thus,
brain stem cells that differentiate into blood cells
or blood-forming cells that differentiate into cardiac
muscle cells etc. This process is known as transdifferentiation.
Transdifferentiation is important in that it paves the
way for in vivo reprogramming of cells as a basis of
genetic modification that may lead to effective prevention
or cure of genetic based diseases.
Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells are derived from laboratory developed
fertilized human eggs, not from aborted embryos.
The process to extract the stem cells occurs when the
embryos are typically four or five days old and are
merely a microscopic ball of blastocyst cells. Establishing
a line of cells takes many process iterations over many
months. During this time the line of cells is periodically
tested to determine whether the cells exhibit the fundamental
properties that make them embryonic stem cells. This
process is called characterization
They also test for presence of cell surface markers
that are typically produced by undifferentiated cells
and whether the chromosomes are damaged or changed.
It does not however detect genetic mutations in the
The aim is to direct the differentiation of embryonic
stem cells into specific cell types that may be used
to treat specific diseases such as Parkinson's disease,
diabetes, traumatic spinal cord injury, Duchenne's muscular
dystrophy, heart disease, and vision and hearing loss.
Video - Embryonic Stem Cells [2:53}
This video reviews the benefits of cord blood stem
cells and the differences between cord blood stem cells
and embryonic or adult stem cells. Cord blood stem cells
have been used as a treatment for thousands of patients,
while embryonic stem cells have never been used as a
treatment in humans.
Stem Cells and Aging
As we age, our stem cells diminish in quality and quantity,
the result being that organs and tissues eventually
wear out and need to be restored or replaced.
Adult stem cell therapy promises to provide a remedy
to this aging process and also in the restoration of
aged skin. By using the patients own adult stem cells,
there is minimal risk of rejection, avoiding the need
for dangerous immunosuppressive drugs.
With assisted differentiation, stem cells can be used
to repair many different types of tissues, and remedy
many different types of damage through age related diseases
such as Alzheimer’s disease, Stroke, Heart disease,
Diabetes, Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
The Future of Stem Cell Treatments
In spite of public debate, stem cell treatments currently
offer the most promise fro the 50,000 people a year
who die waiting for organ transplants and the 100,000
who die each day from aging-related diseases and conditions.
Stem Cells - Fountain of Youth?
Aside from the medicinal treatments stem cells will
support, they also hold great promise for cosmetic regeneration
of the skin.
Over time, skin cells are randomly damaged or mutated
and the body can not keep pace with the regeneration
program - hence aging skin.
This could also be applied to preventative treatments,
for instance heart muscle stem cells can be used to
boost rejeneration of the heart, preventing the onset
of cardiac related diseases.
Stem cell therapy is one of the most promising fields
in both medicine and antiaging.