Stem cells: can you replenish your health?
Pharmaceutical medicine is not always able to cope with severe chronic diseases. Often she offers patients drugs that, although they help improve their well-being, do not cure the disease itself. If you stop taking them, then the problems return. In other words, medicine fights the manifestation of the disease, but not the cause. And the cause of a chronic disease is almost always some kind of breakdown in the cell. Fortunately, in the twentieth century, another, so to speak, engineering approach was discovered: to find and fix this breakdown.
One of the directions within this approach is the use of stem cells. Stem cells are a kind of biological reserve of youth and health of any living organism, including humans. Their task is to reproduce other cells in the body. Unlike other cells, stem cells can either divide very many times, reproducing their own kind, or turn into specialized tissue cells. Another amazing property of stem cells – they can find breakdowns in the body themselves and rush there to fix them – a kind of “ambulance” of the body itself. They are present in the human body until death. True, their quantity and quality decreases significantly over the course of life. That is why the older a person is, the slower any damage heals.
Every new organism starts with a single stem cell. After fertilization of an egg with a sperm, the first full-fledged cell of the body with a double set of chromosomes, the so-called zygote, is formed. It is rapidly dividing, giving rise to new and new cells, which are organized into tissues and organs, in accordance with the genetic program recorded in them. At the same time, the potential of new generations of stem cells decreases. The earliest stem cells, “first-order” cells, can give rise to any kind of tissue, but subsequent stem cells, “second-order” cells, give rise to only certain types of tissue. After birth, various types of stem cells are already present in the body. Among them there are those who work constantly. These are hematopoietic – they are responsible for blood, mesenchymal – they are responsible for bones and cartilage, and tissue-specific stem cells, for example, skin and intestines.
And separately you should talk about the placenta and the umbilical cord. They are necessary while the baby is in the womb, as they connect the fetus to the mother, and after the baby is born, they are considered “biological waste” and thrown away. However, the stem cells that are in these tissues are of great value, because they have very great potential for treating diseases.
At first glance, the very idea of stem cell therapy is very simple. When a person disrupts some mechanism at the cellular level, it is necessary to transplant healthy stem cells into the patient’s body, which, having multiplied, will replace the diseased cells with healthy ones. The idea is simple only in theory, and stem cell therapy is still relatively narrowly applied, although seen as having great potential in other cases.
Radio Liberty asked scientists who study the potential of stem cells for treating diseases: Professor of Stony Brook University (USA) Grigory Enikolopov, whose laboratory studies stem cells brain cells of an adult, and the founder of the Hemafond group of companies, which researches and implements advanced cellular technologies, Yaroslav Isakov.
- What are the most common diseases that can be treated with stem cells today?
J.I .: The whole topic of stem cells started with bone marrow cell transplantation for the treatment of blood diseases. Basically, we are talking about various types of cancer. This treatment was used already in the second half of the twentieth century, even before the boom in stem cells began. And until now, only it is the standard and generally accepted method. It is interesting that such transplantation makes it possible to cure some concomitant chronic diseases. If it becomes obvious that bone marrow cell transplantation is necessary, then you can choose a donor whose stem cells will have certain properties and will fight the concomitant disease. A striking example is two patients who recovered from HIV in this way. The first, the patient, Timothy Ray Brown, was healed in 2007, he is called the “Berlin patient”. And the doctors announced the complete cure of the second, “London patient” recently, in early 2019. Their cure stories are very similar: in addition to HIV, both patients developed additional blood cancers that required a bone marrow transplant for treatment.