Banking on cells

Stem cells are obtained from the patient’s own blood bone marrow, fat and umbilical cord tissue or blood. But stem cells from the umbilical cord are in the purest. Stem cells from cord blood, usually discarded as bio-waste, can be preserved at the time of child birth. Thus preserved, cord blood stem cells have the remarkable ability to divide throughout life and take the place of the cells that die or are lost. They are progenitor cells that lead to the creation of new cells and are thus called as generative cells as well.

 Stem cell therapy in India is catching up fast, considering the number of cases that are cured using stem cells.  Stem cells, after being processed in an environmentally-monitored room, is stored in special bags called cryo-bags and stored at temperatures between -160 to -196 degree Celsius.

Today, stem cells are successfully used in the treatment of various life-threatening diseases like leukemias, myelodysplastic syndromes, lymphomas, inherited red cell (erythrocyte) abnormalities, anemias, cancer in bone marrow, tumours, inherited disorders affecting the immune system and other organs and inherited metabolic disorders. The relevance of the stem cells industry in a country like India is significant because of the variety of treatment options it opens up for patients.

The bone marrow is a source of stem cells in a fully-grown adult. However, recent research work has thrown up evidences of the presence of stem cells in parts other than the bone marrow. In an adult, the sources are primarily the bone marrow, the circulating blood and the dental pulp. Stem cells are successfully used in the treatment of various life-threatening diseases like leukemias, anemias, cancers in bone marrow, solid tumors, and inherited disorders that affect the immune system and other organs and inherited metabolic disorders.

 The potential applications of such cells are becoming unimaginably wider, as they can possibly be used in the treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disorders and spinal-cord injuries. diabetes type 1, Crohn’s disease, cerebral palsy, hypoxia, encephalopathy, multiple sclerosis(MS), traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, cystic fibrosis, gene therapy and cardiac therapy involving cancerous tumors and organ repair are the diseases that we can hope to cure in the future using stem cells.

Experts have been using stem cells to treat blood-related disorders. Rightly so, the journal Science (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, USA) believes that stem cell research would be actively pursued not just by academia, but also by the industry.

As for its therapeutic value, it is precisely for the unspecialised state of the stem cells that the medical fraternity has realised an immense potential for the application of stem cells in treating various diseases.

Stem cells have been used to treat leukemia, thalassemia and certain anemias in India. With each passing year, the number of multi-speciality hospitals offering stem cell treatment is rising. Young parents are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits of stem cells and have been saving their child’s cord blood and tissue instead of throwing it away.

(The writer is General Manager - Medical Affairs at Cryo-Save)

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