SAN ANTONIO June 11, 2002 Stem cells have enormous potential for repairing damage to the body caused by disease, injury, or aging. When introduced into an injured area of a patient, a stem cell could survive and repopulate the region with different types of cells, forming normal tissue.
Stem cells also offer the prospect of treating many inherited diseases caused
by a single, defective gene. Though other
treatments are available, such as gene therapy,
the longevity of benefits from stem cell treatment
provides a tantalizing option for researchers.
Heated controversy has arisen over the ethics of using embryonic stem cells, extracted from either very early embryos or fetuses. The United States has now limited stem cell use to a relatively small number of existing cell lines.
Stem cells are pluripotent, possessing the ability to differentiate into other types of cells. However, other stem cells, which are not derived from embryos and not completely pluripotent, have great potential to differentiate into cells, redeveloping certain tissues or organs. Hematopoietic cells, found in the bone marrow and umbilical cord, for example, can differentiate into all types of blood cells.
In order to make stem cell therapy a reality, it is not only necessary to have suitable stem cells, but also to know how to direct their differentiation and formation of new tissues. Scientists have begun to make new discoveries concerning genes and their protein products that govern various types of cell differentiation, but additional research is imperative.
Stem cell therapies are inherently more complicated than drug treatment, providing a stumbling block for stem cell therapy in the marketplace. However, while stem cell therapy remains costly, it will almost certainly last for several years before the procedure must be repeated. A low annual cost of $2500 per patient for stem cell therapy products at the manufacturers l
Contact: Julia Rowell