The cells of our body are highly specialized to perform specific functions. For example, liver, muscle and kidney cells have entirely different roles in the body, and they all evolve to perform diverse biological functions. On the other hand, stem cells are not specialized. They have the remarkable ability to grow and differentiate into other cell types, helping support our body through injury, diseases and the normal wear and tear.
Currently Available Stem Cell Treatments
For many years now, stem cell treatments involving stem cells collected from umbilical cord blood have been used in bone marrow transplantation therapies. Stem cell treatments are also used for specific blood-related disorders (for example, some forms of anemia). A growing body of medical evidence is revealing that stem cell treatments via the use of cord blood may not be limited to blood-cell-based disease conditions.
Stem Cell Treatments of the Future
Medical research into stem cells is ongoing and has a huge potential to treat diseases or injuries that have traditionally been difficult to manage. Some treatments expected to come to fruition in the future include:
- Neurological conditions: For example, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.
- Immune and inflammatory diseases: For example, arthritis, autoimmune disorders and graft versus host disease in transplant patients.
- To act as a substitute for blood transfusions
- Other chronic diseases: such as diabetes and heart disease.
It may even be possible for stem cell treatments to replace pharmaceutical drugs. There is still much to learn from the clinical trials currently taking place, but researchers in regenerative medicine at the University of Cambridge believe that stem cells from cord blood and other sources are the future of medicine. Additionally, a pioneer in this field, Professor Janet Rossant from The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada has stated “There are still significant challenges that we need to overcome, but in the long run we might even be able to create organs from stem cells taken from patients. That would enable rejection-free transplants."
All this great medical potential may be accessible sooner than we think. It is reassuring to know that a painless, non-invasive collection of your baby’s cord blood at birth is a rich source of stem cells and can be stored for decades. When scientists have their evidence ready, your child’s stem cells would already be available, should they ever require them.