Modern medicine is concerned primarily with treating disease. Doctors study x-rays and blood samples to determine how to stop disorders and keep people from dying as quickly. But a new science is emerging, a science that uses the bodys natural inclination to heal itself as the basis for helping us live longer and healthier lives.

Stem cell therapy has been used since the 1970s to treat blood disorders and in tissue and organ transplants. It has proven very successful in cases where a particular type of stem cell is used to regenerate a tissue or organ of the same type. For example, skin grafts are made from skin stem cells and bone marrow implants are used to create healthier blood.

The Hopes for Stem Cell Therapy

From these positive results, stem cell researchers hypothesize that stem cell therapy can be used to improve immune function and help organs damaged by free radical, toxins, and disease to regenerate and repair themselves.

These possibilities come from the understanding that the body already uses stem cells to increase immunity and resilience, and to repair from damage. The challenge now is that we have fewer and fewer stem cells as we age, using them up as needed or loosing them to environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, every time we are exposed to smoke, stem cells are used to repair the lungs. If we get too much sun or burn our hands on a stove, stem cells are used to repair the skin.

The idea is that doctors will be able to introduce more stem cells into the body to replace the ones that have been lost. The cells will either be transplanted from other adults, from embryos or umbilical cord cells, or from the patients themselves.

Stem cells will also be used to create cells and tissues for medical therapies. Instead of needing a full organ transplant from another person, which are challenging to come by, it may soon be possible to use pluripotent stem cells to produce the necessary replacement tissues. These replacement cells may be able to be used to treat many conditions, including sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, diabetes, and Parkinsons disease.

The Reality of Stem Cell Therapy Today

Regenerative medicine is a hopeful field, and there is a lot of positive research to back up the scientists beliefs that stem cell therapy will be a saving grace for humanity. But so far this is mostly hypothesis and hope. Beyond same-organ tissue grafts and transplantation integration, most of the research on stem cell therapy has only been conducted on isolated tissue samples and animal specimens. Clinical trials on living human beings are in progress all over the world, but there is little conclusive data thus far.

The main challenge is that stem cells are highly differentiated, and their behavior in the body is unpredictable. This means that one cannot inject a liver stem cell and hope that it will heal damaged brain cells. It also means that even if a scientist is working with neural stem cells, there is no way to guarantee that injected neural stem cells will actually heal the neural degeneration or produce new, healthy brain tissue.

Even embryonic cells, the most hopeful type of stem cell because of their unspecialized state, are not universally useful. They must be coaxed into the specialized type of stem cell required for each specific application before being injected into the body.

Each type of disease or disorder will likely need to be treated with a specialized stem cell, programmed to perform the specific necessary function. So far this has proven challenging to achieve in lab tests, but not impossible. Doctors will also need to be able to program the cells to only grow as much as is required, to prevent the development of tumors. And the stem cells will need to be integrated into the body in a way that enables them to communicate and coordinate with the other cells to perform their necessary functions.

Endless Possibilities

Even with these challenges, regenerative medicine holds a great deal of potential for the future of humanity. Researchers have been able to program adult human skin cells to behave like human embryonic stem cells. This means that cells that were thought to be stuck as a certain type of cell can be changed.

This may also mean that it will be possible to program stem cells to behave in certain ways, ensuring that they will heal the damaged tissue in diseased organs or create the necessary neural pathways in damaged brains.

Scientists are working on stem cell therapies every day, and breakthroughs are happening all the time. While this field of medicine is still unfolding, it is possible that soon doctors will be able to use stem cells to create a true field of regenerative medicine, where the diseases and challenges of aging become a thing of the past.