Creating stem cells – The Holy Grail of medicine!
Few people would have dreamt that medicine can advance so far as to create human hearts or kidneys in the laboratories. Scientific research has progressed so fast that scientists can now create stem cells from mature body cells.
Stem cells are what we call as pluripotent cells i.e capable of developing into any adult cell that they are programmed to become! Scientists have managed to turn the clock back on skin cells to turn them into stem cells and these can be mutated to form adult organs and tissues.
The research is still in its nascent form but it has tremendous scope. The researchers claim it is like transforming lead into gold, an alchemy of sorts. Robert Lanza of the Advanced Cell Technology has been instrumental in finding ways to restore blood flow to amputated limbs, reduce the injury sustained by the heart after a heart attack and also creating a functioning kidney from stem cells.
Stem cells can eliminate the risk of graft rejection as the patient’s own cells are programmed to form new organs. Stem cells would lead to an explosion in our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes as they have the potential to develop into any of 220 cells in an adult human.
Ethical and technical issues have been plaguing stem cell research and these are hurdles that have to be bypassed before further advances can be made. What’s heartening is the fact that it is a relatively simple process that needs just 4 genes to transform the skin cells into stem cells. There are concerns of mutation in the stem cells as currently researchers use retroviruses to transform body cells into stem cells. However science is such that what seemed as fictional till date can be turned into a reality!