In the recent years, stem cell therapy has gained much popularity in the area of modern medicine and treatments. Stem cells are cells with the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and to give rise to specialized cells. The way stem cell regeneration is used to repair and treat muscle and tissue injuries is nothing short of a revolution. Stem cells have tremendous promise to help us understand and treat a range of diseases, injuries and other health-related conditions. However, there is still a lot to learn about stem cells and research is under way for many other conditions. Also, researchers continue to explore new methods concerning the use of stem cells in medicine. Call it a lack of awareness or apprehension regarding a new research, stem cell therapy has some myths and misconceptions attributed to it which we’re going to bring to an end:
1. Myth: Stem cells only come from embryos.
Reality: No, stem cells are found in every part of our body, irrespective of our age. Embryonic stem cells can be obtained from embryos, but it is not the only source. Adult stem cells can be found in abundance throughout an adult’s body from sources like muscle tissues, organs, bone marrow and fat. However, embryonic stem cells that come from the early embryo do have the potential to produce all the specialised cells of the body and therefore, are the subject of much research.
2. Myth: Bone marrow is the best source of stem cells.
Reality: Wrong. Bone marrow is one of the sources of stem cells, but not the best one. Research on stem cells extracted from the bone marrow has been going on from decades and much has been derived, but that doesn’t mean that it is the best source. Actually, bone marrow contains a number of different kinds of stem cells, one of which is called mesenchymal stem cells. These cells have the capability to become different types of tissues (blood vessels, muscle tissue, etc.) and are capable of communicating with other cells, thus giving the illusion that bone marrow is the best source.
3. Myth: There is a risk of rejection with stem cell therapy.
Reality: This is the most common myth associated with stem cell therapy, and is untrue. When a patient’s stem cells are derived from his own body (such as fat tissue), there is no risk of rejection. In fact, studies thus far have indicated no safety issues with fat-derived stem cells from the same body. Because they are your own cells, the risk of rejection is eliminated.
4. Myth: Stem cell therapy cures heart disease.
Reality: At present, no. However, clinical research trials indicate that the process of injecting a heart with the patient’s own stem cells can offer several other restorative benefits such as: improved blood flow in the heart, enhanced intake and use of oxygen, and improvement in the ability to perform physical activity.
5. Myth: Stem cells can cure many diseases.
Reality: Contrary to popular belief, this is not true. The most well-established and widely used stem cell treatment is the transplantation of blood stem cells to treat diseases, and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers. Also, since the 70’s, skin stem cells have been used to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns on very large areas of the body. These are some of the most commonly used and well established stem cell treatments. Research is underway for more.
6. Myth: Adult stem cells are only found in adults.
Reality: As plausible as it sounds, this is not the case. There are three different types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, and tissue specific stem cells. It’s the tissue stem cells that are often called “adult” stem cells, but these “adult” stem cells are found in people of all ages. Even babies have adult stem cells.
7. Myth: Stem cell research leads to cloning of humans.
Reality: Could things get any more farfetched? Cloning of a human being is illegal. Period. However, some countries do allow therapeutic cloning for the purposes of studying a disease. In this technique, scientists isolate embryonic stem cells from a cloned blastocyst (early stage embryo) but do not transfer the blastocyst into a womb.
Now that some of the common misconceptions regarding stem cell therapy are cleared up, we hope that our readers have developed a fair idea about how this works. If you’re considering going for a stem cell treatment, you now know what to look out for.