Promising Medical Applications for Embryonic Stem Cells
Special cells that are taken from human embryos, called embryonic stem cells (ES cells), actually possess the power to save your life. The importance of embryonic stem cells rests in their lack of specialization. These basic cells are present in the earliest stages of developing embryos and are able to develop into virtually any type of cell and tissue in the body. Being self-renewing, they offer a potentially limitless source of cells and tissue. The versatility of these unique cells is what makes them so valuable and vital to human existence. These cells can serve many medical purposes and have the ability to benefit people in infinite ways.
a. Joint replacement?
There is great potential for stem cell use in joint repair and replacement as several recent studies have shown. For instance, a team of researchers at the University of Calgary used embryonic stem cells to create osteoblasts, or bone producing cells. The osteoblasts were generated in culture at a limited scale. The team cites the limited availability of embryonic stem cells as a major limiting factor to future studies.
Most scientists are avoiding the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem cell research by studying the potential uses of adult stem cells. In January of 2004, Dr. Michael Longaker of the Stanford University Medical Center and a team of doctors published their findings on bone replacement using adult stem cells in mice. They used adult stem cells derived from subcutaneous fat to create bone on premolded scaffolds. These bone structures were used to repair congenital craniofacial deformations in mouse subjects.
An extension of this procedure to humans could result in monumental advances in skeletal reconstruction. American scientists have located a rich source of human adult stem cells in a specialized fat pad located behind the patella. The extracted adult stem cells were then directed to differentiate into cartilage, bone and fat. The process could eventually lead to the creation of new knee joints and possibly a much improved success rate for knee replacement surgery.
Similar research has been done with adult stem cells for hip replacement. But instead of creating entirely new bone tissue, scientists at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute have used adult stem cells to create a “living glue” to bind artificial joints to living bone. Currently, many joint replacement surgeries fail as the traditional acrylic glue wears out or surrounding bone tissue degenerates.
b. Heart disease?
Recent studies conducted with stem cells and cardiac tissue have produced startling results. Scientists working with rodent embryonic stem cells found that rats suffering from myocardial infarction recovered more quickly and more fully after being injected with stem cells in the damaged areas. Over the weeks following the procedure, the stem cells differentiated into...