The promise of Stem Cells

Regeneration of organs or body parts is not an unknown phenomenon. It is a known fact that lizards are capable of regenerating their cut tail ends and that starfishes can re-grow all of their

Published: 16th February 2012 12:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 05:56 PM   |  A+A-

Regeneration of organs or body parts is not an unknown phenomenon. It is a known fact that lizards are capable of regenerating their cut tail ends and that starfishes can re-grow all of their five arms lost due to damage. Seems like magic right? Well, more like biological magical abilities for survival. However,  the real question is, if they can do it, why can’t we? Well, let us just say it is partly possible.

It is difficult to imagine such a thing happening in humans. I mean, imagine someone growing back an entire limb which he or she  lost in an accident. It seems too far fetched. However, with the onset of regenerative medicine, such a phenomenon doesn’t seem so improbable, albeit regeneration of an entire organ is still a possibility far into the future.

Regenerative medicine is the process by which cells of the body, or portions of damaged body tissues or organs can be regenerated or recreated by tissue engineering and surgery. This is possible in humans due to the presence of a particular cell population known as stem cells. What exactly are stem cells?  These are cells that can develop to achieve the look or function of any cell type in the body.  The procedure crudely involves recovering these stem cells from the patient’s body and converting them into desired cells and then finally surgically introducing the cells into the affected part.

Till recent times, this technology has been most successfully used in treatment of osteoarthritis and corneal transplant. In the former case, drying up of bone marrow or reduction in the cell population occurs. Thus, by virtue of regenerative medicine this depleted cell population is reinstated to relieve the patient from the pain and inflammation in the affected area. The latter case involves culturing or developing an entire cornea of the eye in the lab and surgically replacing the defective cornea of the patient with it. One of the major reasons for the success of regenerative medicine in the above mentioned cases is the fact that the stem cells used in the procedure are derived from the patients themselves. Hence, there is least possibility of rejection of the transplanted material. Since the graft is from the patient, adapting to the body post surgery is not a big deal. The field of tissue culture and engineering has enabled mankind to look forward and dream about a world where personalised medicine exists and is very much a realm of possibility.

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