(NaturalNews) Imagine the possibilities for a moment. Doctors may soon have the ability to regrow injured muscles, tendons, and bones without resorting to surgery. All that will be needed is to inject a patient's own stem cells into the injury site.
Veterinarians are already using these techniques with injured horses and the human application of these techniques will be a reality at some point in the relatively near future.
The National Institutes for Health (NIH) has announced that they are creating a bone marrow stem cell transplant center. This center will reside within the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Scientists in NIH labs are already involved in growing human muscle, cartilage, and spinal disks in vitro. These tissues are not considered "mechanically sound" at this point, but they fully expect to reach this goal with further time and effort.
Generally, the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos is what has been getting the most media attention. Scientists have been quietly working with adult stem cells that have many of the same properties and capabilities as embryonic stem cells. These cells can also become one with their environment and they can replicate like the cells of their adopted tissue.
The projects that the NIH has been working on get some of their data from what veterinarians have learned from using adult stem cells with horse injuries. Often horses' careers have even been salvaged when stem cells were able to regrow damaged tendons and ligaments.
The healing procedure is quite simple. In a surgical room at a veterinary hospital a vet takes blood from the sternum of an injured, anesthetized horse. The vet then uses ultrasound equipment to find the exact injured areas where the stem cells
need to be injected. Amazingly, in as little as a month the injured tissue will be regrown and healed.
At this point, human medicine is still fusing bone and tissue through surgical procedures. Surgery can relieve some of the pain and restore some mobility, but it does not actually repair.
Some recent studies are concluding that using a patient's own stem cells can facilitate the growth of new muscle -- whether in the knee or the heart or elsewhere. Adult stem cells called mesenchymal cells come from muscle, bone, and fat. These are cells with an amazing ability to replicate and they don't have lots of personal identity. This means that they easily take on the characteristics of any surrounding cells and they will grow quickly.
Adult stem cells are present all over the body, in bone and in marrow. They are also found in tonsils and in the placenta and umbilical cord. This suggests that it may be possible for some discarded body parts to be stored for future use.
The most positive part about using autologous cells (from a patient's own body) is that this research is not controversial like embryonic stem cell
research. Also, these adult stem cells are native to a patient's own body so the chances of a patient rejecting them are almost nil.
Interestingly, doctors are already treating people with adult stem cells. Bone marrow transplants for cancer patients are essentially the same as stem cell therapy
. The main difference is that the marrow usually comes from other people and the primary goal of the transplant is to boost a weakened immune system -- not to generate tissue.
Moving from animals to humans will take much more research, however. There is much more to understand about how stem cells work when injected into tissues. Veterinarians don't study horse tendons to determine how the stem cells worked to heal. Understanding is crucial to further advancements.
Stem cell therapy is not without risks, though. The worst outcome is that the stem cells will cause cancer -- or even become cancerous themselves. These are cells that want to grow so this growth has to be controlled or cancer is the likely result. If a cancerous stem cell is not identified prior to use, there will be a bad outcome.
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