Stem cells: applications, perspectives, misunderstandings

Józef Dulak

Abstract


Stem cells exist and can do a lot. For several decades, bone marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants containing haematopoietic stem cells have been used in the treatment of blood diseases. Genetic modifications (gene therapy) of such cells help to cure complex immunodeficiencies and severe anaemias. The limbal stem cells taken from the eye and properly multiplied can regenerate the damaged cornea, and the epidermal stem cells help in the treatment of severe burns and some hereditary, severe skin diseases. Promising experimental research is under way on other uses of stem cells. However, these cells are appropriately selected, having real ability to differentiate into specialized cells whose malfunction is the cause of the disease. Therapeutic applications of stem cells are apparently limited to date. Meanwhile, the Internet is full of advertisements for supposedly miraculous treatments for almost any disease. Stem cells have become a modern synonym of the Holy Grail. A wonderful dish, transforming every drink into elixir of health, youth and long life. Stem cells from a single source, e.g., umbilical cord blood, or so-called cells, although without proven properties of stem cells, are offered in commercial private clinics as a panacea for autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, eye diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and dozens other disorders. Without justification for their action in these diseases, without convincing evidence of safety, but for a high fee. This article discusses stem cells and misunderstandings about including any cells among them. It draws attention to the real possibilities and confirmed uses of stem cells and presents the problems, doubts and dangers for patients associated with commercial offers of treatments using “stem” cells. The author cites the positions of scientific institutions and societies warning against premature commercialization of unjustified and potentially dangerous therapies



Keywords


stem cells; cellular therapies; gene therapy; embryonic stem cells; induced pluripotent stem cells

Full Text:

PDF (Polish)