The first example of regenerative medicine was a blood transfusion, though now we have moved onto different breakthroughs with the most noticeable being the use of stem cell therapy to treat the symptoms of ageing.
The earliest form of regenerative medicine was blood transfusion—something which is commonplace in most clinical settings nowadays.
But researchers are now taking the idea further, experimenting with transplanting bone marrow to help patients with radiation damage or blood cancers to make new, healthy blood.
Regenerative medicine researchers made a major breakthrough in September 2014, when surgeons at a research hospital in Kobe, Japan, transplanted a particular kind of cell that helps eyesight into the eye of an elderly woman suffering from age-related macular degeneration. “We’ve taken a momentous first step,” said Japanese ophthalmologist Masayo Takahashi at the time.
The Hurdles in Regenerative Medicine
While research into regenerative medicine has yielded exciting breakthroughs so far, the road from a successful trial to medical practice is long. Health authorities who grant approval for new therapies must be satisfied that a new treatment is safe and works.
Regenerative medicine treatments also tend to be very expensive, because they require special production facilities and highly skilled staff. With health budgets being squeezed everywhere, high costs are a serious issue for hard-pressed health services.
And there’s another potential hurdle in the way of the spread of regenerative medicine: the use of stem cells, which are harvested from human embryos. Controversy over the moral, ethical and legal issues involved is likely to continue even as the technology advances.
Identifying The Different Types of Ageing
Stem cell therapy holds great potential in the treatment of the symptoms of ageing. To fully understand the causes of ageing, we have to distinguish between two different types—intrinsic and extrinsic ageing. Intrinsic ageing is the one we all cannot avoid and refers to the natural process of ageing to which we are all subject.
Extrinsic ageing is the outcome of various lifestyle and environmental factors which can be the cause of premature or early ageing, and here we have choices to make. The main factors in extrinsic ageing include smoking, alcohol, pollution, UV light, lack of exercise and too much refined sugar and carbohydrates in the diet. These variables all produce ‘free radical’ chemicals, which cause damage to cells.
Moreover, as you age, your cell production rate drops dramatically. Research organisation Swiss Medica noted a decrease of 45 percent at 35 years old. At the age of 65, cell production rate falls further with a shocking decline of 95 percent.
The Symptoms of Ageing
The most recognisable symptom of ageing is the loss of skin elasticity marked by wrinkles and loose skin. This is a by-product of the glycation process, where excess sugars attach to collagen fibres which lose their elasticity and durability. The new bonds created during the glycation process between collagen fibres and sugar modules are known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.
Alongside the ageing of the skin, AGEs contribute to the ageing of the brain through impairments to cognitive functions. AGEs are equally responsible for chronic degenerative disorders such as cataracts, arthritis, renal failure and macular degenerative eye disease.
But stem cell therapy holds out the promise of improvements in these degenerative conditions, as stem cells work to replace and repair damaged issue.
There are three main categories of stem cells, comprising of adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. Adult stems cells are known as multipotent—they can only develop into certain types of cells in the body. For example, blood stem cells are only capable of replacing the different cells found in the blood, but pluripotent cells produced by scientists and embryonic stem cells from human embryos can develop into almost any kind of cell.
How Stem Cell Therapy Can Reduce Ageing?
Potentially, then, stem cell treatment can help lessen the effects of ageing, without disrupting normal functioning.
Themesenchymal stem cell is a multipotent type of adult stem cell found in bone marrow, the principal function of which is to repair skeletal tissues in the bone marrow.
Mesenchymal stem cells have provided promising leads in the pharmaceutical sector, with research being undertaken to determine their effectiveness against Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are also promising for another reason—they present far less in the way of ethical issues than their alternative, embryonic stem cells extracted from embryos at four to five days old.
With stem cells treatments, you are given complete control as the treatments utilise your own stem cells and can be injected where required. While invasive treatments such as Botox can freeze facial muscles and reduce facial expressivity, stem cell treatments can rejuvenate skin cells and improve their elasticity.
In a typical session of stem cell treatment therapy, a patient would receive 200 to 300 million stem cells. The hope is that this large infusion of cells would have a far-reaching impact, replacing damaged cells from decades ago.