An introduction to stem cells
This article focuses on stem cells, their uses and how scientists are exploring their potential to treat many different diseases.
Stem cells are very early-stage cells that have the capacity to grow and give rise to other types of cells in the body. Cord blood and cord tissue are both sources of newborn stem cells.
Cord blood contains hematopoietic stem cells and they give rise to other types of blood cells. Hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow of adults.
Cord tissue contains a different type of stem cell known as mesenchymal stem cells. They have the ability to give rise to bone cells, muscle cells, cartilage cells and nerve cells.
Together cord blood and cord tissue contain two different kinds of stem cells that can be used to grow many different cell types in the body.
Hematopoietic stem cells have been used to treat diseases for more than 60 years. The very first stem cell transplant was performed in 1957, more than 60 years ago by E. Donnall Thomas. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1990 for his discovery of cell transplants as a way to treat human diseases.
Today, hematopoietic stem cells are used to treat over 80 life-threatening diseases such as cancers, immune system disorders, blood disorders and metabolic disorders.
Stem cell research is one of the fastest-growing areas of research. Currently, there are over 1000 clinical trials exploring the use of both cord blood and cord tissue stem cells to treat diseases like osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, breast cancer, liver failure and arthritis.
Tremendous amount of growth has observed over the years in terms of clinical trials from 2004 to 2018.
When we look at trials involving mesenchymal stem cells (one type of stem cells found in cord tissue) between 2005 and 2015, the number of trials has increased by 10-fold.
When these trials are broken down by stem cell type and transplant type, both types of transplants are being equally explored.
What is more interesting is what the data shows in terms of stem cell types. Umbilical cord stem cells are the second largest category being explored for their potential as a future therapeutic.
Let’s just say scientists are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of developing new treatments for diseases using stem cells.