Chances are, you’ve heard of stem cell research before, as not only does it hold plenty of promise for healing treatments in the years to come, but more controversially, it was at the center of an ethical debate little more than a decade ago.
While some people still have reservations about how this research is conducted, experts such as Dr. Kwang Yul Cha could not be more thrilled with the advances that have been made in the past 10 years. Below, we will share just a few of the ways that stem cells are beginning to transform our lives.
1) The creation of 3-D organs
For generations, one of the biggest issues in medical science has been the lack of donors when patients have required a replacement for their ailing organs.
With the lack of timely supply and willing donors, many patients have died waiting for the organ that would give them a new lease on life.
Even if these patients are lucky enough to be the recipient of a donated organ, they also have had to live with the knowledge that their body might eventually reject its newest addition.
Lately however, there has been some promising research that has gone on at UCLA that has brought the day when we will be able to whip up a new organ in a 3D printer closer.
Coating a scaffold full of lung stem cells, they have been able to create simple structures that may some comprise the mold that will build the complex organ from scratch.
There is still a ways to go, but there will soon be a time when the sudden failure of these critical body structures will be an inconvenience rather than a life-threatening event.
2) Reversing spinal cord injuries
It used to be that injuring your spinal cord meant a lifetime of partial or complete paralysis. However, recent advances in stem cell research might make it possible to make a complete recovery from a spinal cord injury in the near future.
Over the past few years, many promising studies have shown the recovery of spinally injured rats exposed to stem cells, but this hasn’t gained nearly the amount of attention that a recent news story has.
After breaking his cervical spine in a car accident several months ago, Kris Boesen of Bakersfield, California signed up for a study that had over 10 million stem cells injected into his neck.
In just the space of a few months, a young man facing the reality of living the rest of life as a quadriplegic has quickly regained partial use of his upper body.
He is now able to write his name, use his smartphone, and hug his loved ones. We don’t know what the future holds for Kris, but we certainly hope that the progress that has been made in such a short time will continue until he’s able to walk again under his own power.
3) Eliminating diseases like multiple sclerosis
Stem cells may one day play a central role in eliminating some of the worst diseases that afflict us. Back in 2004, a risky study was performed with 24 participants, all of whom had multiple sclerosis.
The doctor behind the study proposed killing the immune system that was attacking the patient’s body with chemotherapy drugs, and then rebuilding it from the ground up with injected stem cells.
While one of the patients ended up dying of liver failure, the other 23 have experienced a remarkable recovery from their previous states.
They eventually were able to walk without assistance, the involuntary eye movement commonly associated with MS disappeared from them, and their vision cleared up considerably.
While doctors are cautioning against viewing the outcome of this Lancet study as proof that stem cells can now cure diseases like MS, it is certainly a huge step in that direction.