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Stem cell therapy still in a nascent stage, say experts

R. Sujatha

A final answer to cure diseases

CHENNAI: Stem cell therapy is the newest medical fad in town among those who know a little science. It has caught the imagination as the final answer to curing diseases.

Claims have been made about making a paraplegic walk. And on the other end of the spectrum is the cosmetic appeal of the therapy, where organisations claim they can help hair grow back on a bald pate.

Scientists researching in stem cell therapy say that in theory a number of diseases can be cured, but in practice, success has been achieved in only a few areas.

Experienced doctors, however, point out that the therapy is still in a nascent stage. At the country’s premier institutions such as the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, trials are being conducted.

Though theoretically stem cell therapy can be used to cure anything from simple injuries to heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy or paraplegia, for researchers, the ability to investigate the function of a stem cell is more important.

To ensure community participation, the Department of Biotechnology and the International Society for Stem Cell Research have put up documents on the website providing guidelines for the clinical use of stem cells. The ISSCR has also invited comments from the public on the guidelines.

Alok Srivastava, head of the Centre for Stem Cell Research at Christian Medical College, Vellore, who recently met medical students and doctors at the Gastroenterology Department of Stanley Medical College, dwelt on the hype around stem cell therapy. Because of their unique proliferation and regenerative properties, stem cells are being considered for treating various diseases. Claims of cure abound because stem cells are easily available, and the technology is simple.

Dr. Srivastava said that so far, the use of adult stem cells and cord blood stem cells had only been considered though some clinics in the country claimed to cure a range of diseases with the use of embryonic stem cells. “Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells can make tumours much more easily.”

Researchers, however, admit to successfully using the therapy in bone marrow transplant for bone marrow disease.

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