If you pay attention to healthcare or scientific news, then there’s a very good chance you’ve heard about stem cells and stem cell treatment. What’s more, you’ve likely come up against people who take one of two sides about the issue. Some are huge proponents, recommending stem cell treatments of all kinds and even traveling outside the country to get them. Others are vehement in warning us against the dangers of them.
So, what is the deal with stem cell treatment?
What’s the difference between stem cell treatment and other medicines?
Stem cells are not a type of medication synthesized in a laboratory. Rather, they are produced entirely within the human body. Or rather, scientists take a single cell from the human body and grow a whole family of cells directly from it. Different stem cells do entirely different things, but mostly they are used to promote the body’s natural process of repair against diseased, injured, or otherwise faulty tissue. There are already stem cell treatments generally accepted in the medical community, including bone marrow transplants.
The legality of it all
Depending on who you talk to, you might hear that stem cell treatment is illegal. That is an oversimplification, but there is certainly some truth to it. As mentioned, there are stem cell treatments including bone marrow transplants that are used somewhat regularly in healthcare. Stem cell treatment, itself, is legal, but it’s not as simple as assuming that legal is always safe. It’s not just one treatment, but rather a whole body of treatments. Some of them are approved by the FDA, some of them aren’t.
It’s worth noting that many treatments not approved by the FDA are still widely available on the market, but most doctors will tell you to avoid these treatments
The rise of unapproved treatments
Despite the fact that they’re not approved by the FDA, there is a growing market of stem cell treatments for those who really want it. However, there have been recent attempts to crack down on the trend of unapproved stem cell use. This includes selling unapproved and nonsterile stem cells that could end up proving a risk to the patients rather than an effective treatment.
The list of approved stem cell treatments is very short, with many warning that a lot more research is needed into different kinds of stem cells to determine both how effective and how safe they are. After all, different cells work differently. Stem cells are not a one-size-fits-all solution and there are concerns that they are being sold as such.
What can it treat?
As mentioned, the list of fully researched, fully approved stem cell treatment benefits is quite short. But that doesn’t mean that the data on it isn’t looking promising. Ongoing research is showing that stem cells could be one of the most effective treatment options against cancer, for instance. There is also some evidence that stem cells could be used to replace neurons in the brain, undoing some of the damage caused by spinal cord injuries, strokes, head trauma and even Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Furthermore, rehabilitating long-term injuries, chronic pain, fighting arthritis are all uses of stem cells that are seeing a lot of promise. Again, we are still deep in the research phase of learning just what these treatments do and how applicable they are.
Will it impact the fight against HIV and AIDS
HIV and AIDs still remain one of the biggest epidemics in our society. Though we can do a lot to suppress the symptoms and growth from the infection to the symptoms of AIDS, the search of a cure is still an imperative. Most scientists agree that the likely “cure” will suppress the transmission and the symptoms even further, but there are some hopes that stem cell treatment could prove more effective. Stem cells could hypothetically be used by removing HIV+ blood and modifying the stem cells to make them more resistant to or improve their ability to fight HIV. Most of the medical community agrees there is some potential there, but it’s uncertain if it would be wise to assume we’ve found the path to a cure just yet.
What are the potential dangers?
As mentioned, there are a lot of proponents of stem cell treatment that will travel far and wide, even to other countries, to get unapproved treatments. You may have even heard some success stories about unapproved stem cell use in the past. But what are the risks if they exist? One of the biggest risks is simply getting a bad batch of stem cells from an unapproved seller.
Unapproved treatments can cause other complications to your short-term and long-term health. Unapproved treatments can also make you ineligible to receive some future treatments. What’s more, the costs associated with travelling for unapproved treatments can prove enormous.
The future of stem cell research
The safety and legality of most current stem cell therapies is uncertain, to say the very least. However, the majority of the scientific community is in agreement: stem cells are going to play a very big role in healthcare. In the future, at least. The potential they show for improving the body’s tissue repair functions and the immune system is beyond doubt. However, many are still urging caution before going all in on finding stem cell therapies for your own injuries or illnesses. There are a lot of successful test results, but the data is far from in at the moment. It is still a very new field of medicine, so we don’t know everything we need to.
It’s impossible to say what, exactly, it will look like, but there is little doubt that stem cell treatment will someday become a central part of how we fight disease. It could even bring some cures we’ve been waiting on for decades. It’s not as black and white as “stem cells are good” or “stem cells are bad”, but it’s important to be informed so you don’t argue for or against something that is still very much a work in progress.