Who knew that diseases like Diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Autism traditionally considered “degenerative and incurable” can be cured, that too with the help of our cells? What earlier seemed impossible is now a reality. The cells of our body are capable of multiplying and renewing themselves and replacing the damaged ones. Such cells are called stem cells. According to the spokesman of Stempeutics Pvt Ltd., a venture of Cipla ltd. & Manipal Foundation, the emergence of stem cell therapies kindle hope in the patients.
“As scientists, we now have alternative treatment and healing methods. Patients with rare and incurable diseases now have hope, a chance at treatment. A positive attitude of patients is often the key to a successful cure, and stem cell therapies reinforce this hopeful outlook,” says Vijayaraghavan (who goes only by one name).
Vijayaraghavan, Spokesman, Stempeutics Pvt Ltd.
We now have alternative treatment and healing methods. Patients with incurable diseases now have hope. A positive attitude of patients is often the key to a successful cure, and stem cell therapies reinforce this hopeful outlook.
Unique property of stem cells
Stem cells are immature cells in our body originating from embryo. In simple terms they are cells of mother capable of giving rise to other cells in the body. Unlike majority of cells in our body such as skin cells or heart cells that are committed to conduct a specific function, stem cells are not committed to any specific function. They can become specialized and mimic the function of any cell within the body. This unique property of stem cells is the basis of all the research happening on them from quite some time.
There are three types of stem cells which are used for treatment of diseases i.e. adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Adult stem cells are tissue-specific stem cells that can replicate tissues of blood and hence most of the stem cells research happening for the treatment of leukemia focus on this category. Embryonic stem cells were isolated by researchers in 1998. Present in early stages of embryo, this class is capable of becoming any specialized cell of the body. They hold the promise of being able to repair or replace cells and tissues damaged and destroyed by various disabilities and diseases. iPSCs are specialized adult stem cells that can be ‘reprogrammed’ to behave like embryonic stem cells. Researchers have recently generated brain cells from iPSCs belonging to patients with neurological disorders such as Down’s syndrome or Parkinson’s disease.
Department of Biotechnology (DBT), DST, ICMR and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research are the major government agencies that fund stem cell research. Private players like Reliance Life Science, Life Science (Chennai), Stempeutics (Bangalore) and CryoCell are also making their presence felt. “The ICMR-DBT draft guidelines on Stem Cell Research in India has laid down a solid foundation on which researchers have embarked into this unexplored yet highly promising field,” says Prof. Bhudev C. Das, Chairman, Amity Institute of Molecular Medicine & Stem Cell Research. Institutes like AIIMS, National Centre for Cell Sciences, Pune University, Centre for Stem Cell Research at CMC Vellore and L.V. Prasad Eye Institute also focus on the application side of stem cell research.
Scope and Applications
Applications of stem cell therapy are immense. “Stem cells treatment is an evolving and emerging science. Though in its nascent stage with evolving regulatory norms and less awareness, stem cell treatment is regarded as the future of modern medicine and has opened great avenues for healthcare and wellness entrepreneurs,” says Vijayaraghavan of Stempeutics. Some of them are listed below:
Organ and tissue regeneration
Cardiovascular disease treatment (coronary heart diseases, stroke, replacement of damaged heart)
Skin (replacing damaged skin)
Blood diseases (Blood cancer, anemia)
Eye (cornea repair)
Brain disease treatment (Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s disease)
Bone (Spinal cord injury)
Stem Cell Research is not only for medical professionals. Any student with a degree in biotechnology, biochemistry, genetics, zoology, biophysics, microbiology and life sciences can go for research in this field.
Why is research important?
Its importance lies in the fact that it aids in economic development and can make treatments more affordable in developing countries. The GoI, through DBT granted over Rs 300 crores in previous five years for applied and basic research in stem cell technology. "No breakthrough study has emerged from this elaborate funding. However, if this facility is put to use for clinical research, maybe some significant outcome is expected,” said Prof. Ravi Kant, VC, King George’s Medical University, Lucknow. The potential of this field makes it an attractive funding destination.
Select centres of stem cell research
Name of the institute
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Stem Cell and Transgenic Research Lab
National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore
Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem)
Christian Medical College, Vellore
Center for Stem Cell Research
Amity Institute of Molecular Medicine & Stem Cell Research
Manipal University, Bangalore
School of Regenerative Medicine
Department of Biotechnology
Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (Bangalore)
Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Vascular Biology
Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Hyderabad
Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB)
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