The term “adult stem cell” is misleading because these stem cells are also found in babies, children and even in umbilical cord blood. Adult stem cells can be obtained from many parts of the body, including bone marrow, brain, blood, skin, eye, muscle, liver and hair. It is currently believed that they are likely to be present in most of the body’s tissues and organs, even if they have not yet been found. Their job is to replace and replenish cells that are continuously lost to disease and every day wear and tear. A good example of the type of tissue repair guaranteed by adult stem cells is the healing process of skin cuts and scrapes.
When stem cell research first came to public attention in the late 1990s most of the non-embryonic research success had not yet been published. At that time, researchers told people that the best sources of cures would be embryonic stem cells, and that nobody valued a tiny embryo over a sick child. The media too played its part in promoting embryonic stem cells as the body’s repair kit, and helped to create a belief that these cells could be used to cure a range of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries. Now, the growing weight of scientific evidence is beginning to discount this idea that embryonic stem cells are the answer, and former supporters of embryonic stem cell research are now favouring adult stem cells as the method of choice for treating degenerative diseases.
Adult stem cells have been isolated from numerous tissues, umbilical cord, and other non-embryonic sources, and have demonstrated surprising ability to transform into other tissue and cell types and to repair damaged tissues. Adult stem cells have been successful in treating up to 73 different conditions, while not a single successful treatment has come from the use of embryonic stem cells. For this reason, most biotech companies are not engaging in embryonic stem cell research, and not because of ethical problems, but because adult stem cells seem more likely to provide effective medical treatments to suffering patients.
It is not within our remit here to go into every single successful therapeutic use of adult stem cells suffice it to say that there have been up to 73 different applications documented. Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of the types of applications that have been achieved using adult stem cells:
Stem cells from bone marrow have been found to repair damaged muscle. The researchers involved in one such study on this application believe that the results are promising for the future use of adult stem cells in the treatment of neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy. “Muscular Dystrophy: Blood cells could build muscle in neuromuscular diseases”, Healtth and Medicine Week, December 1st 2003
In a study published in the May 2003 edition of Nature Medicine researchers found that five people suffering from Parkinson’s disease who received injections of adult stem cells, experienced significant improvement in their ability to perform daily activities. Three of the patients regained their sense of taste and smell. Nature Medicine May 2003
A report in Nature Science Update stated that genetically-modified adult stem cells that were implanted into the brains of eight Alzhimer’s patients in an early human trial, appeared to slow the mental decline by half. According to researchers; “if these effects are borne out in larger, controlled trials, this could be a significant advance in therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.
A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that adult stem cells taken from a patient’s own muscles repaired damage to the heart after a heart attack.
Thus far adult stem cells have benefited human patients suffering from 73 different conditions: