If you've heard much about stem cell therapy, you've likely heard it described as one of the more promising developments in recent medical history. In many news stories, it has been made to sound like a far-off approach to treating a variety of conditions. Progress in the field of stem cell therapy treatment, however, has come quickly. Let's take a look at the current state of stem cell therapy.
Moving Beyond Embryonic Stem Cells
The biggest controversy surrounding the process has been the use of stem cells gathered from embryos for use in research and medicine. While there is still plenty of work being done in the field of embryonic stem cells, innovations in the field have allowed doctors to use stem cells derived from many other sources. These include the patient's own skin and fat cells, and many methods also utilize cells derived from bone marrow. In some cases, adult stems cells can also be derived from donors. There is also a lot of work being done using cells harvested from umbilical cord blood.
What Actually Happens When They're Used?
A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to differentiate into any other type of tissue in the human body. In the body's early development in the uterus, there needs to be a bridge between the embryo stage and the formation of a fetus. Stem cells are that bridge. They start out having no assigned form, and they can then turn into the appropriate materials for the part of the body they're intended to develop into. Such properties remain useful in adult bodies, but the human body pretty quickly burns off most of its supply during fetal development.
This makes them an especially appealing option for producing bone, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons in laboratory conditions. They're also considered quite useful in developing neural treatments for brain damage and disorders along with neurodegenerative problems. Current research is also trying to establish the efficacy of stem cell therapy in dealing with cancers and heart disease.
Not a Cure-All
It's important to recognize that there's a lot of hype around stem cells. This excitement is justified in terms of what researchers feel about the future, but stem cell therapy should not be treated as a magical cure-all. Be skeptical of claims that suggest a solution is easy, and make a point to regularly include your general practitioner in the conversation about stem cell therapy.
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