Stem Cells to the rescue!

There have been a lot of advances concerning Stem Cells recently. Just mention the phrase “Stem Cells” and the hair stands up on your arms: it is a controversial subject with lots of questions and very few good answers. Most of the answers generate still more questions, so it seems we just can’t win.

But these therapies involve Adult Stem Cells, which are not very controversial. Most people can agree that reusing your own Stem Cells – hey, all we’re doing is recycling! – is a good thing. Adult Stems usually doesn’t lead to people marching in the streets.

If you need a new heart valve, maybe your mom can help. Scientists in Germany predict that within five years, we’ll be able to grow new heart valves from the Stem Cells found in umbilical cord blood! Researchers in Oakland, California have also found that the placenta is an excellent source of Stem Cells – perhaps even better than umbilical cords.

I don’t think that Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) will ever be eradicated or “cured.” There are just too many variations and factors at work. I do think that we’ll eventually be able to stop them in their tracks through surgical improvements, medications, and better science. This is a good example of that school of thought. So don’t be surprised to hear about more and more expectant moms saving cord blood and their child’s placenta- you just never know!

Another Stem Cell advance – currently being used with kidney transplants – is to “borrow” Stem Cells from a donor to cut the chance of rejection. The idea is to trick the recipient’s body into thinking the new kidney is a natural organ, or at least to not attack it as hard. The study is in its early stages, perhaps if it shows promise another study will try it on hearts. It could take quite a while to prove or disprove the theory, but properly done medical research moves in small steps.

Another advance in Stem Cells we’ve discussed before: Stem Cells injected directly into the heart to combat heart failure. The doctors take a sample of tissue, usually from the patients thigh, collect the Stem Cells and grow them in a culture for a few days. After that it’s back to the operating room, where they are injected directly into the heart. Ouch! But the Stem Cells usually transform into heart cells, and the efficiency of the damaged heart muscle improves.

One of the dangers of this procedure is that the heart has to be stopped before the cells are injected, then restarted. But this new approach tries a different strategy:  The Stem Cells are injected into skeletal muscle. It works just as well – perhaps better – and doctors don’t have to stop and restart a fragile heart.

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One Response to “Stem Cells to the rescue!”

  1. nataliecurry Says:

    I really enjoyed this post…very well stated! I completely agree, stem cells are the future!!

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