The most well-established and widely used stem cell treatment is the transplantation of blood stem cells to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers. The US National Marrow Donor Program has a full list of diseases treatable by blood stem cell transplant. More than 26,000 patients are treated with blood stem cells in Europe each year.
Since the 1980s, skin stem cells have been used to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns on very large areas of the body. Only a few clinical centres are able to carry out this treatment and it is usually reserved for patients with life-threatening burns.
The human body requires many different types of cell to function, but it does not produce each cell type fully formed and ready to use. Instead, it produces stem cells that have a wide range of possible functions. However, stem cells need to become a specific cell type to be useful.
When a stem cell divides, the new cells may either become another stem cell or a specific cell, such as a blood cell, a brain cell, or a muscle cell.
Doctors have always considered this kind of scarring permanent and untreatable.
However, this small study involved only 11 participants. This makes it difficult to tell whether the improvement in heart function resulted from the transplantation of stem cells or whether it was due to something else.
Many clinical trials for embryonic stem cell-based therapies have begun in recent years. Results from those won’t be available until the trials reveal that the therapies are safe and effective—which could take a few years.
While ten cell therapies have been approved around the world as of January 2016, the only widely used stem cell-based therapy is bone marrow transplantation. Blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow were the first stem cells to be identified and were the first to be used in the clinic. This life-saving technique has helped thousands people worldwide who had been suffering from blood cancers, such as leukemia.
In addition to their current use in cancer treatments, research suggests that bone marrow transplants will be useful in treating autoimmune diseases and in helping people tolerate transplanted organs.