For many people, complex medical conditions like various forms of cancer and traumatic conditions like spinal cord injury, either signal a death sentence or leave one in a paraplegic state. But stem cell therapy is gaining a huge traction in organ transplant as was recently evident when Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria was able to regain his mobility courtesy of stem cell therapy.
So what are stem cells?
Well, these are cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.
These daughter cells either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types.
In stem cell transplants, stem cells replace cells damaged by chemotherapy or disease or serve as a way for the donor’s immune system to fight some types of cancer and blood-related diseases like leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma and multiple myeloma. These transplants use adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood. When stem cells are used treat diseases or repair damaged body tissues we call it stem cell therapy or regenerative medicine.
The clinical applications and medical use of stem cell is so unlimited and offer the best or alternative pathways in dealing with complex medical conditions where the conventional or known medical practices have failed to yield desired results. To mention a few areas where stem cell is gaining popularity in offering clinical solutions are:
Regeneration of cartilages, bones and ankle reconstruction. This forms important aspects in offering medical solutions in orthopedics especially in cases of traumatic and road traffic accident cases.
Mesenchymal stem cells are currently being used in treatment and healing of chronic wounds that resulted from burns or with diabetic foot cases.
For patients who have undergone chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Hematopoietic stem cells plays a crucial role in recovery of bone marrow. Hematopoietic stem have been used to offer therapeutic solutions to patients with severe idiopathic aplastic anemia.
Central nervous system injury situations can be caused by a stroke, trauma, or an underlying neurological condition. Neural stem cells are essentially used for regeneration purposes to create new cells to replace those that were lost.
However, in this case it hasn’t been effectively done but in the end it helps patients to live a quality life especially for fellows with cases like Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. In situations of genetically inherited diseases, bone marrow MSCs (Mesenchymal stem cells) have also been used as a therapeutic for Hurler’s syndrome.
The new frontiers in treatment of various forms cancer lie in clinical applications of stem cell. This is an area where stem cell dominates and offer vast potential therapeutic pathways.
Mesenchymal stem cells are vital in the treatment of cystic fibrosis, liver cirrhosis, lung diseases, diabetes and many other medical conditions.
Therefore, the clinical applications of stem cells are so vast that it is inexhaustible. Kenya as a country has responsibility to mobilize human resource equipped with proper technology and set of skills in combating complex medical conditions that have defeated the conventional therapies currently in practice.
Training a stem cell and regenerative Fellow does not come cheap. It ranges from between Sh9 million to Sh12 million.
Prof Ben Fadhili is a senior consultant, STEM UK while Dr Samson Mbati is a Fellow, University of Nottingham School of Medicine.