Where is Stem Cell Research going?

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Over the past few decades, stem cell research has been a hot topic throughout the scientific community and in the public eye. Not only has been considered controversial by many Americans, but there are also worries about how this new breakthrough in medical science will affect patients over the long run. While this remains a hot-button topic among many, there is question to how stem cell research will change, or even save, lives.

Many doctors and scientists are looking to start small with the new information they have been given. It might be possible within the near future to regrow limbs, cure those who are paralyzed, or help patients regain sight, it seems as though the most likely treatments will be to rebuild small areas of the body. Hair treatments that might minimize balding have been looked into extensively in Japan, and serve as a relatively safe place to start testing stem cells.

Though baldness is the least of what stem cell research has the potential to correct, small steps need to be made in order to make sure that it does not gain more of a negative reputation than it already has. Because many of the new cells needed to begin the regeneration are not fully understood, there might not be a way to predict exactly what might occur once they are used in certain situations.

“[T]hese cells can replace or repair damaged tissues, eliminating the need for surgery. For example, if injected into a person’s spinal cord, the stem cells mimic spinal cord cells…[s]o promising is this research that Keck Medicine of USC established the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine to study how the body’s own developmental and repair mechanisms can restore damaged cells, tissues, and organs,” states an article for Forbes.

Where stem cell research is really likely to change lives is for those who have had debilitating problems with joints and spinal injuries. Once these “blank cells” have been applied to an injury, the process of creating new muscles, tissues, and even areas of the brain can occur. This can be an especially helpful tool for the elderly, or for those where surgery can cause stress and concern. Stem cells allow many to avoid the operating table and to cut down the need for intense physical therapy.

There is a great possibility that stem cell treatment could go even further than that, as well. A number of types of illnesses that could benefit from stem cell research have been mentioned over the years, but experts predict that it could be a positive addition to a sleep apnea treatment, counter the loss of memory for Alzheimer’s patients, and repair the bodies of cancer patients that have suffered from chemotherapy.

“Amidst all the hype, the hope, and the controversy about gene therapy and stem cell research, some very real progress is being made. Scientists can create working versions of human genes, package them into a virus, and then use the virus to deliver the genes to a real person,” writes Steven Salzberg for Forbes.

Many have been concerned for several years about the issues that come with using this new medical technology and how it should be tested. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know exactly how the cells are going to react, and test subjects have to be willing to try a new treatment. Not only can this not work, but there is no way to predict how the cells will take to their host and what the results will be.

A safer way to test stem cells tends to be on fairly superficial areas, such as a patient’s skin. There has been a lot of success with epidermal experimentation, and these cases have done a lot to help sceptics see stem cell research in a new light. During a few tests, this experimentation has saved lives and has encouraged the use of stem cells in other areas of medical science that might not have been initially thought of.

Using stem cells for therapy or regenerative treatment is still very expensive, and many research facilities are looking for ways that they can cut costs and make it more available for the average patient. Hair treatments and other, more commercial therapies might be a good way to introduce stem cell research in a positive light and to try and dispel some of the fear surrounding it, while also opening up the door for more intensive procedures.

It is unlikely that we will start to see stem cell research reach our hospitals any time soon. Much more testing needs to be done and public education will need to be increased in order to help hesitant patients realize that they could benefit from experimentation. However, there is a chance that stem cell research will become the way of the future and will save lives that might have been lost in the past.

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