It wasn’t that long ago that Stem Cell research was considered extremely taboo. It was a form of research that got a controversial reputation as it was developing, and it was a hard stigma to shake. No matter how amazing the results were. What most people didn’t realize at the time was that there are many forms of stem cell treatments that have been around for many years. For instance, bone marrow transplants for children with Leukemia is a treatment that involves taking stem cells from a donor and implanting them into a recipient.
The amazing thing about stem cells is that they are the building blocks of every cell in your body.
When they are implanted into tissue, they become the same kind of cell as the cells around them. I know that is a very basic analysis of how stem cells work, but the result doctors are getting using stem cell treatments are simply amazing.
Fully Functional Heart Muscle
Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) have developed a new technique that could revolutionize heart transplants. The technique involves taking a heart that has been stripped of the original donor’s heart muscle cells and repopulated with the recipient’s induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Essentially by removing the donor cells that can trigger a rejection of the donor organ from the recipient’s immune system, these doctors can up the success rate of heart transplants by growing heart muscle tissue with the recipient’s own stem cells.
According to researcher Jacques Guyette, the ultimate goal is even loftier than that: “Regenerating a whole heart is most certainly a long-term goal that is several years away, so we are currently working on engineering a functional myocardial patch that could replace cardiac tissue damaged due [to] a heart attack or heart failure.” The research, which was led by Dr. Harald Ott, was published in the journal Circulation Research. So far, the team has regenerated heart muscle tissue in 73 human hearts that were designated for medical research.
Stem Cells for Blindness
Dr. Jeffrey Weiss in Margate, Florida has treated over 270 patients with their own stem cells as a “cure” for blindness with a reported 60% success rate. Weiss isn’t part of any clinical trial, nor is he associated with an official university study. One of his patients, Vanna Belton, was diagnosed with a condition in which the optic nerve swells and eventually leads to blindness.
Belton paid Weiss $20,000 dollars for his somewhat experimental procedure and is actually able to see again. Granted, she is still legally blind due to blind spots in her vision, but she is no longer completely blind like she was before the treatment.
Although several doctors are skeptical about Weiss’ treatment, the London Project to Cure Blindness began clinical trials last year involving a similar stem cell treatment. In their trial, they have treated 10 patients with an eye patch that is seeded with stem cells to treat age-related macular degeneration. The trail is on-going, but there is a lot of hope for the treatment and its uses for other ocular conditions.