I think the potential uses for stem cells is amazing. But whether they really work is another matter. Several years ago, the exciting area of research was gene therapy. You could inject a new copy of a faulty gene. At the time this was going to cure disease and revolutionise medicine, but it hasn’t yet. I used to work for a company that made vaccines for flu using gene therapy techniques, but no one was really interested….this is why the company closed.
Anyway, I digress. For the treatment of heart attack, stem cells have only shown a mild effect. They seem to help the heart, but no more than a drug that costs a lot less. The main problem with stem cells is the cost. To grow enough stem cells to repair a damaged organ or tissue, cost 1000’s of pounds if not in the £10,000-50,000 mark. People in my lab are researching the use of stem cells to treat people after they have had a heart attack. It will be interesting to see what happens and if it gets cheaper to grow them.
Esp interesting is the Zebrafish, which is able to regenerate parts of it’s heart. If 20% of the zebrafish heart is removed, it can regrow in a few weeks. This is amazing and uses stem cells found in the zebrafish’s heart to change back into heart cells. They have somehow kept the ability to regenerate, which has been lost in humans. If we can understand how they get stem cells to work like that and repair such a huge part of their heart, stem cells might be the true future of medicine. It would be amazing to think that stem cells could be as important to the 21st century, as antibiotics were to the 20th.
I think that it’s definitely one of the answers to a lot of problems, but there is a long way until it becomes a real solution. I think that there are loads of avenues to explore, rather than just focussing on one, but it all depends on funding really.