Stem cell therapy for various diseases – all your queries answered

Medical science has come a long way and scientists are finding better and more efficient ways to cure diseases. Stem cell therapy is one of the methods that has the potential to cure a wide range of diseases in the future and some say it is the future of all treatments. A lot of parents are even preserving stem cells of their newborn baby in order to ensure treatment for them when they grow older. In this post, we’ll tell you more about stem cell therapy and the various diseases it may treat.
What is it?
Stem cells are derived from human umbilical cord or bone marrow. Also called the ‘basic cells’ of our body they have the power to mature into any type of tissue cell in the body. Stem cell therapy is based on the principle that stem cells migrate to the site of the injury and transform themselves to form new tissue cells that can replace the damaged ones. They have the capacity to multiply and renew themselves almost indefinitely and can form mature nerve cells, muscle cells and blood cells. In this therapy they are taken out of the body, and kept under artificial conditions (also called as induction of the stem cells) where they mature into the type of cells that are required to heal a particular part of the body. 
There are two types of treatments:
Autologous stem cell therapy: This method uses the patient’s own stem cells (adult stem cells) which are obtained from the blood, bone marrow etc.
Allogenic stem cell therapy: This therapy uses donated stem cells. The disadvantage in this therapy is that in a number of cases these donor stem cells may be rejected. This method of stem cell therapy has not yet been legalised in India.
What are the diseases that can be cured using stem cell therapy?
Stem cells can be used to treat a variety of blood cancers, blood disorders including anaemic anaemia, tumours, immune disorders and metabolic disorders. Also clinical trials on which suggest that in the future stems from the umbilical cord can be used to treat Alzheimer’sParkinson’shydrocephalusliver cirrhosisstrokes and traumatic brain injuries. Research is also on to check its application for treating type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and rheumatoid arthritis. Besides these, here are some diseases and conditions that may be cured using stem cell therapy.
Peripheral nerve injury
A team of researchers has successfully rescued peripheral nerves in the upper arms of a patient suffering peripheral nerve damage by using skin-derived stem cells (SDSCs) and a previously developed collagen tube designed to successfully bridge gaps in injured nerves in rat models. (Read more..)
MDR TB
A recent research by Markus J. Maeurer and colleagues from Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm found the potential of bone marrow stem cell therapy to treat MDR- TB and extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) patients. The study found that patients infused with new mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) derived from their own bone marrow showed boosting response rates against the MDR-TB bacteria. Out of 30 MDR-TB patients involved in the study, 16 patients showed no signs of infection by the end of 18 months. Moreover, the therapy didn’t show any serious adverse effects. (Read more..)
Hair loss
Stem cells are also used to treat hair loss. In this process, a small amount of fat is taken from the waist area of the person whose hair is being treated through a mini-liposuction process. This fat, which contains dormant stem cells, is then put in a centrifuge and spun to separate the stem cells from the fat. Once that is done, an activation solution is added to these cells. The cells might have to be multiplied in number depending on the size of the bald area that needs coverage. Once activated, the solution is washed off so that only cells remain. Now, the stem cells are injected into the scalp where hair loss has appeared. One can find some hair growth in about two to four weeks. (Read more…)
Restores eyesight
Rods and cones in the eyes are the most important photoreceptors. In humans, rods provide night vision, while cones offer a full-colour look at the world during the day. Now, damaged cones in retinas could be regenerated and eyesight restored to people through stem cells from the staple of genetic research, the zebrafish. Researchers say this shows some hope for stem cell therapy that could regenerate damaged cones in people, especially in the cone-rich regions of the retina that provide daytime/colour vision. (Read more…)
Facilitates kidney transplants
Kidney transplants could become more common and less cumbersome, thanks to  a new procedure which adds a second transplant of stem cells from the donor. Normally patients who get organ transplants face a lifetime of expensive anti-rejection drugs but this may change with a new procedure in which a second transplant – this time of the organ donor’s stem cells. Normally donors have to take anti-rejection drugs all their lives since the immune system is geared to fight foreign substances. Unless there is a perfect match donor match, patients have to wait for a long time for an organ transplant. Though in its early stages, the new study is being hailed as a potential game-changer in the field of transplantation, a development which could aid millions of potential organ transplant recipients. (Read more…)
HIV/AIDS
In a path-breaking breakthrough two American are believed to have overcome HIV after undergoing stem-cell therapy! The news has met with widespread elation with experts believing that a cure might be on the cards. Doctors from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston announced that two previously HIV-positive patients no longer had detectable virus levels in their blood or tissue after having bone marrow stem-cell transplants to treat cancer between two and four years ago, the Age reported. (Read more…)
Paralysis
A Bangalore based hospital claims that it has successfully come out with a treatment for spine repair and a stem cell therapy to correct paralysis. At a press meet, the hospital shared the stories of paralysed patients it has successfully treated in the past few months.
The Bangalore Institute of Regenerative Medicine at Live 100 Hospital announced that the treatment involves a number of steps and while some patients gain sensation in the lower half of their bodies within three months from commencing of the treatment, others take a little longer. (Read more..)
Multiple sclerosis
Doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have conducted an autologous stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis which could be the first recorded case in the country. In an autologous stem cell transplant the donor and recipient is the same person.
Body immunity generating stem cells were first extracted from the patient. His faulty immune response system was weakened through a high-dose chemotherapy regimen that destroys new blood cells forming bone marrow and existing blood cells. Later, his own stem cells were injected back into his body which created a new immune response system by forming the bone marrow and all cells in the blood. The doctors believe that the new immune response system will not have the faulty autoimmune tendency. (Read more…)
Hip joint disorder
A multi-specialty hospital in Bangalore has successfully used stem cells to cure a hip joint disorder, relieving affected patients from expensive surgery and conservative treatment. ‘We have so far treated seven patients, including two non-resident Indians (NRIs) suffering from hip joint disorder using their stem cells and helped them to resume normal life within months,’ Live 100 Hospital chairman H.N. Nagaraj told IANS. (Read more…)
Heart failure
Researchers have highlighted, for the first time, the natural regenerative capacity of a group of stem cells that reside in the heart. According to the new study these cells are responsible for repairing and regenerating muscle tissue damaged by a heart attack that leads to heart failure.
The study shows that if the stem cells are eliminated, the heart is unable to repair after damage. If the cardiac stem cells are replaced the heart repairs itself, leading to complete cellular, anatomical and functional heart recovery, with the heart returning to normal and pumping at a regular rate.
Also, if the cardiac stem cells are removed and re-injected, they naturally ‘home’ to and repair the damaged heart, a discovery that could lead to less-invasive treatments and even early prevention of heart failure in the future. (Read more…)
How is it done?
The entire procedure can be broken down into three steps: bone marrow collection, laboratory processing and stem cell implantation (bone marrow stem cell or cord derived stem cell). Your doctor may administer a ‘stem cell stimulant’ medication to enhance the transplantation process.
Bone marrow collection: in this process a sample from the hip or thigh region is taken. The procedure takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and is done on an in-patient basis.
Laboratory processing: Once the sample is taken, it is sent to the laboratory for testing. First the stem cells are separated from blood and plasma, the numbers of stem cells present are counted and their vitality is checked.
Stem cell implantation: In this step, the doctor will administer the harvested stem cells to the patient. The first dose is either intrathecal (injected directly into the damaged area or cerebrospinal fluid) or intradermal (injected into the skin). After a few weeks, the patient will be given a second round of harvested stem cells.
The patient usually will notice improvement within 8 weeks to 1 year depending on the severity of the condition.
Who can use it?
Stem cell therapy has been used experimentally on a number of disorders including certain types of cancer, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and traumatic spinal cord injuries.
Disadvantages of Stem cell therapy
Stem cell therapy has not shown to have too many disadvantages, except that the patient is in some amount of discomfort after the extraction process. Taking a sample for the transplant involves taking marrow from the hips or thigh, this can be painful and the patient may experience nausea, headache and pain in the legs for a few days after the process.
This new therapy is currently being widely used in cases where patients have suffered from a traumatic spinal injury or neurological disorders. A spinal injury is usually caused due to a sudden and traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates the vertebrae. The damage is instantaneous, and begins the moment the fragmented bone or displaced vertebrae crushes the spine. According to statistics, in India, about 15 lakh people live with a spinal cord injury. While the degree of the injury varies, a number of people who suffer are left paralysed either partially or completely. In the recent past stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries has become feasible, giving completely paralysed patients a chance to regain mobility.
You too can donate your stem cells!
We spoke to Dr Sunil Parekh, the Chairman of the MDRI who tells us everything we need to know about stem cell donation:
How does stem cell donation work? How can donors help? 
Dr Parekh: The healthy stem cells harvested from a voluntary donor will rescue the recipient (patient), restore his health and permanently cure his otherwise fatal blood disorder. This donation is specific only for the patient with whom there is a perfect HLA (human leukocyte antigen) match. The donor’s healthy stem cells work by permanently replacing the defective or cancerous stem cells of the patient. Incidentally, this ‘matched unrelated transplant’ (MUD) is the best treatment option for such patients in whom all other conventional treatments have failed or are simply not available. Other patients, who are anxiously waiting to find HLA matched donors from the donor registries, will be greatly relieved to know that such transplants are indeed now possible in our country and can be successfully done in many centres in India.
What are the common myths that you’ve come across about stem cell donation?  Are there any objections on religious grounds?
Dr Parekh: Due to a lack of awareness (and education), most lay people believe that this procedure is not safe and that they will ‘lose their stem cells permanently’. Actually, like all blood cells, stem cells also regenerate rapidly, and the same donor will be fit to donate again for another matching patient after a suitable interval. People are also apprehensive about pain related to the procedure, persisting thereafter for a long period of time. Actually, a conventional blood donation uses the same needle (inserted into the vein in front of the elbow), that is used for stem cell collection. Religion and politics have no business in interfering with evidence-based life saving medical treatments like haematopoietic cell transplantations. (Read more:  Be a superhero, be a stem cell donor – save a life (Expert Interview))