Back in 1998, a scientist from the University of California coined a term that would become a critical piece of medical history – embryonic stem cells. At one time, stem cells were the wave of the future. In 2013, studies are showing the future is here.
Researchers in regenerative medicine are calling this the year of the stem cell. The industry was fraught right from the beginning with controversy but modern tools like cord blood banking has lead to breakthroughs. This year promises even more success.
Why Stem Cells Matter?
Stem cells are cells still in their infancy. Simply put, they contain matter that allows them to be any cell needed whether it is a brain, nerve or muscle. Certain types of tissue are unable to regenerate. When there is a break in skin, the wound scabs over and new skin grows, but the same process does not work on critical nerve tissue.
The human body is unable to repair certain elements. Severance of the spinal cord, for example, will never scab over and grow back like a cut in the skin. That is why people who have spinal injuries end up as quadriplegics or patients with Parkinson’s disease lose their control over their muscles.
The Application of Stem Cells
Stem cell research may be the answer to trigger regeneration in tissue. Through cord blood banking, scientists that access to stem cells that may potentially promote healing in areas the body can’t heal naturally. Stem cells generate into any cell type. In theory, if injected into a diseased brain, stem cells will regenerate that area. A damage brain could become whole again.
In 2012, medical science took a step towards officially sanctioning regenerative medicine. Up until this point, the idea of human stem cell usage was so controversial that some studies stayed under the radar. In October, however, two key researchers in the field – British biologist John Gurdon and Japanese physician Shinya Yamanaka – were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their work in stem cell research.
That same month, company StemCells, Inc. released a paper on their use of neural stem cells in human patients with spinal cord injuries. Their second trial was on children with a fatal brain disorder. The results of both studies are promising. Although three of the children in the second trial have died, autopsies prove stem cells migrated through their brain tissue before death.
Why 2013 is the Year of the Stem Cell
With human studies beginning last year, this is the time that research should start showing how cells taken from cord blood banking sites might promote regeneration. Diseases like Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration and Parkinson’s disease may see a cure through this research in the future.
The controversy over stem cell research continues but with the possible benefits may outweigh any concerns. In 2013, the name of the research game will be embryonic stem cell research. It is no longer something out of a science fiction movie; the time for the stem cell is now.