Not a day goes by that new treatment methods are not found against diseases with the developments in medicine. In recent years, everyone’s eyes are on stem cell therapy, which has shown promising results against many diseases. We researched for you what it was and what it wasn’t. Let’s start.
What is a stem cell, what does it do?
The precursor cells in our body that are functionally undifferentiated and can transform to function in any tissue or organ of our body are called stem cells. Stem cells go to the area where there is an injury or repair in our body, transforming into the required cell type and repairing the damage.
E.g; It repairs the liver in those with liver disease, the heart in those who have a heart attack, or the damaged area in those whose bones are broken. One of its most important features is that it can create new stem cells like itself with its unlimited ability to divide.
The period in which stem cells are most abundant in the body is infancy in the womb. The number decreases in later periods.
In which diseases is stem cell therapy used?
Stem cell technology is used in the treatment of many diseases today. Stem cell uses are as follows:
- Bone marrow cancers,
- Various organ cancers,
- Neurodegenerative diseases (muscle and nerve diseases groups),
- Heart diseases,
- organ failures,
- Autoimmune diseases (such as diabetes, Crohn’s and MS.),
- Tissue implants (bone, cartilage, bladder, trachea, etc.).
Stem cell therapy also;
- reduce the time required for wounds to heal,
- Less need for medication by reducing chronic joint pain,
- To increase flexibility and sleep quality,
- To minimize the risk of muscle injuries,
- reduce nerve damage,
- to increase collagen,
- Production of new heart and blood vessel tissue,
- To heal skin wounds,
- It helps to reduce hair loss.
How many types of stem cells are there?
Stem cells are examined in two groups, either from embryological origin or from the adult human body. Adult stem cells can be obtained from many tissues in our body.
We can examine stem cells in 4 groups according to their differentiation capacity into other types of cells. These are as follows:
Totipotent: Totipotent cells have the capacity to transform into all kinds of tissues and organs and form the entire living body. It draws attention as it is the cells with the highest ability to change.
Pluripotent: Pluripotent cells are involved in the development of many tissues and organs. These cells can grow any type of cell. However, like totipotent cells, they cannot completely form a living body.
Multipotent: Due to the rapid growth of the tissues and organs of the baby growing in the mother’s womb, stem cells partially lose their ability to change during this period. These cells, called multipotent, contain hematopoietic stem cells, which are rich in cord blood.
Unipotent: During adulthood, stem cells are now involved in the regeneration of tissues and organs to which they belong. These cells have limited multipotent properties. Unlike adult cells, they have the capacity to divide.
Mesenchymal stem cells: Mesenchymal stem cells are found in the umbilical cord. The effect of cord blood in stem cell therapy is increasing day by day.
Where are stem cells found?
Bone marrow is one of the most used sources to obtain stem cells today. Bone marrow has a structure that produces blood cells abundantly. However, in recent years, there has been a great increase in the rate of obtaining stem cells from cord blood.
We can list the places that fall into the adult stem cell class and are considered the most efficient sources for obtaining stem cells as follows:
- Bone marrow,
- umbilical cord blood,
- Milk teeth
How are stem cells obtained?
The path followed to obtain stem cells differs according to the region where the cells will be taken.
Obtaining stem cells from the bone marrow: In this method, the bone marrow is stimulated by administering some drugs to obtain stem cells from the blood circulating in the vessels. Thus, the cells in the bone marrow are allowed to pass into the blood. Within 2-3 days, stem cells are collected with a method called “afaresis” and transplanted to the patient.
If the stem cells are for the person from whom the cells are taken, they can be stored for years. However, if it is to be used for another patient, the stem cells should be transplanted to the patient as soon as possible without waiting too long.
Stem cells from umbilical cord blood: Obtaining stem cells from umbilical cord blood is more practical than obtaining from bone marrow. In addition, it has the ability to reproduce by adapting more quickly than the stem cells in the bone marrow.
Stem cells from baby teeth: The stem cells obtained by this method are produced from the fleshy structure under the baby tooth. They have a better ability to proliferate in culture than most adult stem cells. They can give effective results in the repair of damages in different tissues. However, their ability to replicate on different cells is still under investigation.
Stem cells from fat cells: Stem cells can also be produced from the fat taken from the person in autologous (stem cell transplantation to the person from their own cells). These stem cells, which cannot be transplanted to another person, can be stored for years.
How is a stem cell transplant done?
There are two ways of stem cell transplant. The type of transplant performed by giving blood-forming stem cells from someone else to the patient is called allogeneic stem cell transplant, and the type of transplant made from one’s own stem cells is called autologous stem cell transplant. The type of transplant to be done is decided according to the type of the disease or its current condition.
Stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant; It is performed by transplanting healthy stem cells from the person himself or from a tissue compatible donor (donor) to regenerate damaged bone marrow stem cells.
Before this procedure, chemotherapy and drug therapy are administered to the patient for the treatment of damaged stem cells. Then, healthy stem cells are taken from the patient or the donor and transferred through a catheter placed in the neck vein.
During transplantation, patients are generally in good condition. In the first 30 days after the transplant, the patient may feel various side effects. These side effects are followed by the doctor and drug support is provided to reduce the effects.
Almost immediately after the transplant, the stem cells head to the bone marrow to start producing new blood cells and restructuring the immune system.
How to donate stem cells?
There are two ways to donate stem cells:
Peripheral stem cell collection method: A form of treatment that involves transplanting the stem cell collected from the donor’s peripheral blood to the patient. It is the most preferred method, and the suitability of the vascular structure for donation should be evaluated.
Bone marrow collection: About 1 week before the donor who chooses this procedure, 1 unit of blood is taken and stored to be given to him again. After analyzing whether the person can receive general anesthesia and performing the necessary health checks, hospitalization is provided.
After 1-2 hours of anesthesia, the doctor makes a small incision (without stitches) on the skin and advances to the back of the hipbone with the help of a special needle. The donor is discharged in the evening of the same day or the next day.
Who can be a stem cell donor?
According to the standards set by the Turkish Red Crescent, the person who will donate stem cells must be between the ages of 18-50 and be healthy (no hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis disease, no chronic disease, no cancer or HIV diagnosis). Those who have these qualifications can donate bone marrow and stem cells.
If the stem cell donation is to be made by one of the person’s first-degree relatives, this person must be a healthy person who is older than 2 years old, younger than 60 years old and does not have a chronic disease.
If you have these characteristics, you can be a hope for others by volunteering for stem cell and bone marrow donation.