STEM CELLS.. the Great Hope for the Future; Dear Miriam

The Mirror (London, England), July 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

STEM CELLS.. the Great Hope for the Future; Dear Miriam


Byline: MIRIAM STOPPARD

Stem cell research is producing a stream of exciting developments that are likely to revolutionise medical treatments.

Among the latest is a technique using patients' own stem cells to repair joint damage which causes osteoarthritis, a painful condition affecting 8 million people in the UK.

This type of arthritis happens when cartilage - the substance that cushions the ends of bones - degenerates through wear and tear, so the bones grind against each other when you move.

Up to now, the only treatments involve pain relief, antiinflammatory drugs or joint replacement ops, all of which have their limitations.

But, in a trial to start at Keele University later this year, patients' own stem cells will be removed from their bone marrow through keyhole surgery and grown in a lab for three weeks. Stem cells are immature cells that have the potential to be turned into different types of cells in a lab and in the body.

They will then be re-implanted back into the area of damaged cartilage, hopefully encouraging new growth, which will be monitored over 12 months.

If successful, this would be invaluable. Osteoarthritis is set to increase, partly due to our ageing population and partly due to rising obesity, as excess weight speeds up wear and tear on joints.

One day, stem cell therapies could also be used to treat conditions as diverse as heart disease, MS and blindness, as well as doing away with traditional organ transplants.

Here are some of the most recent hopeful developments...

Organ transplants

Earlier this year, a 10-year-old boy had a windpipe transplant operation, using his own stem cells, carried out by doctors from three leading London hospitals and a hospital In Florence.

A donor windpipe was stripped of its cells to make a scaffold, then infused with the boy's own stem cells. The windpipe was surgically placed into the boy, where the stem cells carried on forming.

Organ transplants using the patient's own stem cells virtually rule out risk of rejection and the need for immunesuppressing drugs, which can increase risk of serious diseases such as cancer. One day, many more body parts could be produced in this way, including new teeth.

Heart disease

Stem cells from human blood vessels have been removed during heart-bypass operations and used to stimulate the growth of new arteries in mice. The idea of this Bristol University research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, is to find a way of repairing hearts damaged by heart attacks.

Now further studies on humans are needed to show that the cells could help people recovering from heart attacks by stimulating growth of blood vessels around their hearts.

This may be a few years off but, if it works, it will save millions of lives as coronary heart disease kills one in four men and one in six women in the UK. …

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