The potential of stem cell research is only just beginning to be understood, but the possibilities have the power to drastically change the world that we live in.
The pace at which research is moving could mean a complete revolutionary shift in the way that major chronic illnesses are treated, and prevented, within the coming decades. It could mean an end to many of our most common diseases, and even an end to mass production of meat!
Effectively regeneration of stem cells has the potential power to reverse the aging process. It has been called by many, the biggest scientific breakthrough of our time.
But let's start at the beginning and take a look at possibilities that are within our grasp. Here are five benefits of stem cell research that we are likely to see within our lifetimes:
1. Regenerative Medicine
As a natural part of ageing our body loses its ability to fight off disease, and therefore to prevent damage to our organs. The more our essential organs become damaged the less able our body is able to function normally. This is the ageing process. The potential of stem cell therapy, is that damaged organs will be able to be repaired by pin pointing very rare and potent tissue specific stem cells.
"Regenerative medicine can overcome the human body's built-in obsolescence. Stem cell medicines can repair thebody's damaged cells rather than simply mask symptoms as traditional medicines do. By repairing damage at the cellular level, you can then restore the function of key organs like the heart and brain which in turn improves and extends life."
2. Meat Free Meat!
As a vegetarian, the idea that there might soon be a solution to our heavy worldwide meat consumption fills me with hope and joy!
Right now it is still in research stage, but millions are currently being invested in developing stem cell culture which would allow real meat to grow in a laboratory using muscle cells from a painless biopsy of a living animal. Currently the costs are too high for it to be a commercialized technology, but it is estimated that cruelty free meat could become a reality in as little as 5 years!
"Removing our dependence on animals for agricultural products can significantly reduce antibiotic overuse on livestock, and provide a sustainable way to feed a population of over 9 billion by 2050. Cellular agriculture may also open the door to new, and safer, culinary possibilities."
3. Tailored Treatments for Chronic Disease
With the help of stem cells, it may soon be possible for treatments for diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis to be personalised, making them more effective and reducing negative side effects.
Researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht, have been able to grow mini organs known as organoids and test different drug combinations on them to see how they react before being used on the patient. This has already been effective in trials on cystic fibrosis patients in the Netherlands, and is also beginning to be used to help cancer patients.
4. Reversing Heart Disease
A new study has given hope that damaged tissue in those suffering from heart disease could be regenerated through a stem cell treatment injected into the heart during surgery.
The treatment pioneered by stem cell research company, Celixir, involved injecting stem cells into the damaged scar tissue of patients suffering from heart disease. More than three years after the initial treatment the participants (who would usually have a mortality rate of 70%), had an average 40% reduction in scar size, and 70% improvement in quality of life. Perhaps the first real evidence of heart regeneration in humans.
5. Treatment of Parkinson's Disease.
One particularly promising area of research in stem cell development is in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Parkinson's is the second most common neurodegenerative disease and is caused by a shortage of the brain chemical dopamine that enables messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that control movement and some forms of thinking.
Currently the disease, which affects 5 to 7 million people worldwide, is incurable and drugs can only improve early symptoms of the disease. However, research is underway which has been able to create dopamine producing nerve cells in the lab.
As yet trials have not been carried out using these stem cells on the human brain, but after improvements shown in rodents and non human primates, phase 1 of a human clinical trial is due to begin this year.