Advances in technology have made it possible for someone to buy the various components of a computer from an electronics store and build a sophisticated, functional, complex machine in their garage. Biologists have been experimenting with a similar approach to repairing and regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the human body.
Limitations of Current Stem Cell Technology
One of the key limitations in current stem cell technology is a lack of standardization. Every laboratory has a different method of producing and manipulating the cells. This means it is impossible to obtain the same results or compare experiments conducted at different labs. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been at the forefront of efforts to resolve this issue. The Common Fund Regenerative Medicine Program is an initiative to standardize stem cells for both academic and commercial use. Standardization will be a huge step forward in developing innovative therapies for some of the most serious maladies that afflict humans.
Clinical-Grade and Laboratory-Grade Stem Cells
Clinical-grade stem cells are available for research and clinical trials in humans. Laboratory-grade stem cells are used in cell cultures and animal models. Laboratory-grade stem cells help establish the conditions that are conducive to the differentiation of stem cells into specific types of tissue such as heart, brain, and pancreatic cells.
Standardized Stem Cell Production
Standardization of stem cell processes is important for another reason – it aids in getting FDA approval and thereby getting lifesaving therapies to patients sooner. Standardized stem cells are produced under quality and safety standards that meet the regulations for clinical use. Therefore, the availability of standardized clinical-grade stem cells is the key to utilizing their huge potential in the future of medicine. In essence, these would be play-and-plug stem cells that can be applied to the treatment of a variety of diseases.
Treatment of Diseases with Stem Cells
Laboratory-grade stem cells have shown immense potential for the treatment of diseases in animal models. In mice, scientists have used stem cells to create insulin-producing cells to reverse diabetes. Animals with spinal cord injuries have regained limb function with the help of stem cells. Stem cells have been able to treat debilitating neuromuscular diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and muscular dystrophy in animals. Therefore, the implications of plug-and-play stem cells for use in humans are huge, and standardization is the first step in making these treatments a reality.