The More We Learn About Stem Cells, the Greater Their Potential
How much do you know about stem cells? If you are like most people, your knowledge extends to the political argument over stem cell research and not much further. But take heart, those of us in the medical community don’t know as much as we would like beyond the biological function stem cells play. We are learning, though. And, in fact, the more we learn about stem cells, the greater the potential for all sorts of treatments.
We already see success in using stem cells to treat certain kinds of musculoskeletal injuries, especially in the knees, hips, shoulders, and spine. The use of plant stem cell material in combination with plasma rich platelet (PRP) therapy is quickly gaining acceptance as a viable and more natural alternative to surgery.
As naturopaths, we are intensely interested in learning more about stem cell therapies and how they might be used as part of a holistic approach to medicine. So imagine how excited we are to hear of a new stem cell treatment that may be beneficial for cataract patients. Researchers from San Diego recently release very promising data.
An Alternative to Cataract Surgery
The San Diego research focused on creating a stem cell therapy that would enable patients with cataracts to regrow new lenses after removal of the defective tissue. As things currently stand, the default treatment for cataracts is to replace the affected tissue with artificial lenses. While that treatment is fairly effective compared to the older treatments it replaced, cataract surgery always carries with it the risk of infection, rejection, and eventual clouding of the artificial lenses.
Researchers decided to create an alternative therapy that would remove the damaged lenses without harming what are known as lens epithelial stem/progenitor cells (LECs), under the assumption that the LECs would be able to grow new lenses naturally. They first tested the theory in mice and found that it worked.
Next, the researchers tried the treatment on monkeys – it was also successful. Finally, they were given permission to attempt the treatment with humans. They selected 12 infants under the age of two who were all suffering from congenital cataracts. Using a very small incision, they remove the cataracts while leaving some of the LECs fully intact. The results were amazing.
Incisions in most of the patients healed within one month; transparency within the field of vision was more than 20 times better than similar patients treated with traditional lens replacement surgery. Yes, the research is inconclusive due to such a small pool of patients. But the improvement of 20 times is incredibly encouraging.
The Power of Stem Cells
Stem cells have long intrigued the medical community due to the way they operate. Rather than being specific to one purpose or function, stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that become more
specialized cells based on signals they receive from the body of the organism. Once specialized, they multiply continually to develop into specific kinds of tissue.
If we can stimulate stem cells to form a certain kind of tissue, we could use those cells to help the human body naturally repair itself with less need for medications and invasive surgeries. That is the goal. The study in San Diego has proved, in theory, that the idea can work just as we expect it to. Now it is a matter of learning from this study and applying it in other ways. From our perspective, the future looks bright.