Stem-cell research is one of the more promising lines of study for medical researchers; and it has attracted more interest than most project fields, as a remedy for many serious and life threatening conditions. It is estimated that there are more than 200 clinical trials being conducted currently for diseases stem-cell treatment could help. Although it has to be considered experimental at this stage, clinics around the world have commercialized many techniques, before trial verification of their effectiveness.
The tissue cells of adults are specialised in form and function after differentiating from a basic unit, the stem cell of the developing embryo. Transplanted into an adult individual, embryonic cells have a limited life-expectancy, and unlikely to re-populate the deficient specialised tissue, and have sometimes caused teratoma cancers. There are also ethical objections for some to their use, and at one time President George Bush banned their use in the United States.
However, some non-embryonic cells retain a more limited capacity to modify their function and fulfill other roles. One such cell has been named a mesenchymal stem-cell. A pioneer in this field, Dr Neil Riordan, harvests these cells from umbilical cords for use in his Stem-Cell clinic in Panama City. It attracts patients from around the world, for the treatment of diseases including life threatening neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis.
Dr Riordan claims that such stem-cell treatments work by regulating the immune system, boosting T cells, and countering inflammatory changes, rather than by clonal multiplication. Treatment at his facility I understand costs tens of thousands of dollars.
Each clinic establishes its own methodology. Some of the research and therapeutic units in Australia of which I am aware are:
- Melbourne based ASX listed Biotech company, Mesoblast, recently also listed on the US NASDAQ exchange, managed by Silvio Itescu. It is producing products for Chronic heart failure, chronic low back pain, acute graft versus host disease, and biologically refractory Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Diabetic nephropathy from mesenchymal adult stem-cells.
- The Clem Jones Centre for Neurology and Stem-Cell Research has been established at the Griffith University, Nathan Campus, in Brisbane, under researcher Dr James St John. He is researching the use of olfactory ensheathing cells from the lining of the nose, to stimulate repair of damaged spinal cords. Such a technique has already been successfully used in one patient with transaction of the spinal cord. This disproved the old dictum that the central nervous system lacked the ability to regenerate.
- The University of NSW is exploring the ability of two compounds to transform fat cells into stem-cells. The researcher is Acting Professor John Pimanda. He believes the treatment impairs cellular memory, creating multi-potent stem-cells which then take their cue from the surrounding tissue.
- Stem Cells Australia is a reliable source of detailed information and is backed by a number of University Departments.
The effectiveness of stem-cell therapy has not yet been established. It is being used widely on empirical grounds but those contemplating having such surgery should first gather as much objective evidence as they can about the procedure, particularly if it involves considerable expense to them.