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Stem cells are able to be
transplanted into certain areas in order to treat certain diseases:

Alzheimer’s disease:

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In this disease, brain cells are
destroyed because of a build-up of abnormal proteins; it is the most common form
of dementia. Clumps of proteins prevent signals within the brain being sent
properly. Brains with AD make smaller
amounts of neurotrophins (proteins that help neurons grow and survive).  Therefore
scientists are researching how to increase the amount of neuotrophins produced. Positive effects have
been seen with neural stem cell transplants given to mice with a disease
similar to Alzheimer’s, but researchers are still studying what these stem
cells are doing and how they might help repair the brain. Drugs currently used
to treat AD only alleviate symptoms (e.g. mood swings).

 

Parkinson’s disease:

The disease is the death of
dopamine producing cells in the brain. The symptoms include shaking and
rigidity. Levodopa is the drug currently used to treat PD. Levodopa is
converted into dopamine when in the body, which compensates for lost
dopamine-producing neurons. This drug only delays the progress of the disease.

Scientists can now make
dopamine-producing neurons from induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic
stem cells. Neurons made from this pluripotent cells survive and function after
transplantation into mice and monkeys.

 

Type I diabetes:

This type of diabetes is where
the body’s own immune system destroys insulin producing cells within the
pancreas. The current resolve for this is for patients to inject insulin to
make up for their own lack of insulin production. Research is still being
conducted on what triggers the immune system to destroy beta cells in Type 1
diabetes. Stem cells are being
researched whether they can be transplanted into patients with Type 1 diabetes
in order to create beta cells which produce insulin. Clinical trials are
presently taking place with devices/capsules that protect the new beta cells
from the patient’s immune system. There
is also a possibility of using drugs to encourage cells in the pancreas to
naturally make more beta cells.

 

Heart disease:

Heart disease is where muscle
tissue in the heart is damaged (irreparably) because of a heart attack. Stem
cells could potentially grow into a variety of heart cell types in order to
repair and regenerate damaged heart tissue. In
a study in The Lancet, researchers treated 17 heart attack patients with an
infusion of stem cells taken from their own hearts. A year later, the amount of
scar tissue had shrunk by about 50%.

 

Developmental biology is the
study of the process by which animals and plants grow and develop.
Developmental biology also encompasses the biology of regeneration, asexual
reproduction, metamorphosis, and the growth and differentiation of stem cells
in the adult organism.

Stem cells are useful in this
field as they have the capability to differentiate into almost any cell type.
In humans, embryonic stem cells can serve as an unlimited source of cells for
regenerative medicine (methods of treating disease and repairing damaged
tissues) to treat many diseases.

 

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