Top 10 Stem Cell Treatment Facts | Closer Look

Many clinics that are offering stem cell treatments make claims about what stem cells can and cannot do that are not supported by our understanding of science. The information on this page corrects some of the misinformation that is being widely circulated.

There are many different types of stem cells that come from different placesin the body or are formed at different times in our lives. These include embryonic stem cells that exist only at the earliest stages of development and various types of tissue-specific or adult stem cells that appear during fetal development and remain in our bodies throughout life.

Our bodies use different types of tissue-specific stem cells to fit a particular purpose. Tissue-specific stem cells are limited in their potential and largely make the cell types found in the tissue from which they are derived. For example, the blood-forming stem cells (or hematopoietic stem cells) in the bone marrow regenerate the blood, while neural stem cells in the brain make brain cells. A neural stem cell wont spontaneously make a blood cell and likewise a hematopoietic stem cell wont spontaneously make a brain cell. Thus, it is unlikely that a single cell type could be used to treat a multitude of unrelated diseases that involve different tissues or organs. Be wary of clinics that offer treatments with stem cells thatoriginate from a part of the body that is different from the part being treated.

Read more about differentTypes of Stem Cells

As described above, each type of stem cell fulfills a specific function in the body and cannot be expected to make cell types from other tissues. Thus, it is unlikely that a single type of stem cell treatment can treat multiple unrelated conditions, such as diabetes and Parkinsons disease. The underlying causes are very different and different cell types would need to be replaced to treat each condition. It is critical that the cell type used as a treatment be appropriate to the specific disease or condition.

Embryonic stem cells may one day be used to generate treatments for a range of human diseases. However, embryonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors and are unlikely to become the cells needed to regenerate a tissue on their own. They would first need to be coaxed to develop into specialized cell types before transplantation. A major warning sign that a clinic may not be credible is when treatments are offered for a wide variety of conditions but rely on a single cell type.

The range of diseases where stem cell treatments have been shown to be beneficial in responsibly conducted clinical trials is still extremely restricted. The best defined and most extensively used is blood stem cell transplantation to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers. Some bone, skin and corneal diseases or injuries can be treated with grafting of tissue that depends upon stem cells from these organs. These therapies are also generally accepted as safe and effective by the medical community.

There are three main reasons why a person might feel better that are unrelated to the actual stem cell treatment: the placebo effect, accompanying treatments, and natural fluctuations of the disease or condition. The intense desire or belief that a treatment will work can cause a person to feel like it has and to even experience positive physical changes, such as improved movement or less pain. This phenomenon is called the placebo effect. Even having a positive conversation with a doctor can cause a person to feel improvement. Likewise, other techniques offered along with stem cell treatmentsuch as changes to diet, relaxation, physical therapy, medication, etc.may make a person feel better in a way that is unrelated to the stem cells. Also, the severity of symptoms of many conditions can change over time, resulting in either temporary improvement or decline, which can complicate the interpretation of the effectiveness of treatments. These factors are so widespread that without testing in a controlled clinical study, where a group that receives a treatment is carefully compared against a group that does not receive this treatment, it is very difficult to determine the real effect of any therapy. Be wary of clinics that measure or advertise their results primarily through patient testimonials.

Science, in general, is a long and involved process. Understanding what goes wrong in disease or injury and how to fix it takes time. New ideas have to be tested first in a research laboratory, and many times the new ideas dont work. Even once the basic science has been established, translating it into an effective medical treatment is a long and difficult process. Something that looks promising in cultured cells may fail as a therapy in an animal model and something that works in an animal model may fail when it is tried on humans. Once therapies are tested in humans, ensuring patient safety becomes a critical issue and this means starting with very few people until the safety and side effects are better understood.

If a treatment has not been carefully designed, well studied and gone through the necessary preclinical and clinical testing, it is unlikely to have the desired effect. Even more concerning is that it may prove to make the condition worse or have dangerous side effects. SeeHow Science Becomes Medicine

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Top 10 Stem Cell Treatment Facts | Closer Look

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