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Stem cell research and its use as a treatment has been the hottest topic for debates from the last few years. Stem cells are a special kind of cells in the body which have the potential to regenerate damaged tissue in the body by developing into other types of cells like liver cells, heart cells, etc. Stem cells normally function in the body to maintain optimal health by replacing dysfunctional cells. There are three different types of stem cells depending on their source which are embryonic, adult and foetal stem cells. These cells are engineered which then leads to the treatment of various illness like Alzheimer's disease, Schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, Autism, Heart disease, etc. Even though stem cell therapies challenge to cure many illnesses it carries a lot of risk related to the therapies which might turn out to be lethal for the patient. For e.g. as per a new research, stem cell therapy was used on heart disease patients and later it was observed that it resulted in making the coronary arteries narrower.
PROBLEMS RELATED TO STEM CELL THERAPIES:
Stem cell therapies have given people suffering from earlier incurable disease a new hope. The dopamine producing neurons in human brains the death of which in Parkinson's disease causes paralysis can be replaced by stem cell therapy (Zubin et al., 2007). Bone marrow transplant (BMT) a popular clinical application is used to restore the blood cells of different types after chemotherapy to eliminate the endogenous cancer cells. Skin stem cells called the keratinocytes taken from the hair follicle after plucking the hair. These cells are then culture to get an epidermal layer similar to that of the patient and then used for autologous grafting which wipes out the risk of rejection (Murielle Mimeault and Surinder K. Batra, 2010). In diabetes it has been seen that the Beta cell mass and its functions are reduced. To cure this, in-vitro or in-vivo differentiated regeneration of insulin producing cells are transplanted which is the most appropriate approach for beta cell regenerative therapy (Jun HS, 2010).
PROBLEMS RELATED TO STEM CELL THERAPIES:
In stem cell transplants used for stem cell therapy, safety of the patient is the most important thing to be kept in mind. Stem cell transplants carry a potential side effect and complication whether it is an autologous graft or an allogenic. Thus the researchers face many challenges when it comes to stem cell transplants and these should be overcome before this method is used to overcome various diseases.
Immunological rejection is a very common problem in stem cell transplants. In this the immune system of the patient's body recognizes the transplanted cells as foreign and then wages an attack on them. This is called as the Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD). Here the donor's immune cells or the T cells are not recognized by the HLA antigens due to which it rejects it. In some cases the graft fails to grow after the transplant thus resulting in a graft failure. This leads to the bone marrow failure which then causes under production of red blood cell, white blood cells and platelets resulting in anaemia, infection, bleeding etc. A condition called total graft failure is a rare condition but is life threatening (Techung Lee, 2010).
After chemotherapy and the stem cell transplant the white blood cell count goes down and thus the immune system becomes weak. This makes the patient susceptible to infections even from bacteria present in the normal body flora. Even the red blood cell count goes down and along with it the haemoglobin level which makes the patient anaemic and the patient becomes weak and experiences fatigue.
Another problem seen after transplantation is the Veno-Occlusive Disease occurs due to damage caused to the liver as a result of high levels of chemotherapy. It generally happens to patients who have had previous liver damage or hepatitis or have been through chemotherapy treatment earlier. It is mostly visible within first two weeks of the transplant and generally causes jaundice, liver swelling, weight gain (Women's Health).
Some serious long term side effects are also seen after the transplantation. Infertility is one of them. Total sterility is observed in male as well as females only if total body irradiation is done in some cases the younger women are seen to recover ovulatory and menstrual cycle after the transplant but hormonal replacement therapy is necessary. Cataracts in the eye are also seen in patients who have undergone a total body irradiation. These occur mainly in patients taking steroid doses and starts developing mostly between 18 and 24 months after the transplant (Women's Health).
It increases the chance of development of secondary cancer after the chemotherapy treatment but mostly it is seen in breast cancer that the chances of developing secondary cancer after the treatment is less than 2 %. The chances of developing a secondary cancer in lymphoma patients are around 8 to 10 % after they have undergone chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant (Explore stem cells).
Even though the stem cell therapies have brought huge relief to many people suffering from disease which were thought to be incurable, it also brings along with it many other risks which might or might not show up in the patient. These side effects are mostly those like the ones that are usually seen after chemotherapy. These are bound to happen due to the use of large and strong doses of drugs towards the treatment and administration of the stem cell therapy. The symptoms vary from person to person and one patient might show all the side effects while the other might not show any at all. So to develop the stem cell therapy as a major technique for treatment of various diseases the researchers have to first cope up with these side effects that tag along with the therapy and come up with a strong defense for each to make this successful and thus used by all.