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When drugs don’t help, when the tissue gets damaged, or when organ donors aren’t available, there’s still one more option to try: stem cell therapy. Stem cells, such as those taken from the blood in a baby’s umbilical cord, can be guided to grow into other types of cells. This means that, theoretically, they can be used to treat any number of conditions.
Read on to learn about 5 conditions commonly treated with stem cell therapy.
Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, such as bone marrow. Doctors have been treating leukemia patients with stem cells for decades, making it one of the oldest forms of stem cell therapy.
In this therapy, patients get an infusion of blood-forming stem cells, which then work to regenerate blood. The cells can come from a donor or from the patient.
Stem cell therapy is also used to treat other types of blood disorders, such as aplastic anemia. As with leukemia, the stem cells are injected to improve the ability of the bone marrow to produce blood.
3. Skin Grafts
Stem cells can be used to grow skin or create skin grafts to repair injuries such as burns. In one such treatment, doctors harvest a patient’s stem cells to create a solution that gets sprayed onto the wound, where new skin starts to grow. In another treatment, doctors harvest cells from the patient’s skin to grow new skin that can then be grafted onto the wound.
4. Corneal Damage
When the cornea (the clear tissue at the front of the eye) gets scratched, damaged, or burned by chemicals, a patient can lose eyesight or go completely blind. A newly approved European treatment uses stem cells to cover the cornea and repair the damage.
In this procedure, doctors remove a tiny amount of tissue from the patient’s limbus, the junction between the sclera (the white part of the eye) and the cornea (the clear tissue at the front of the eye). Doctors then use these cells in a laboratory to grow a clear sheet of corneal tissue that can then be transplanted onto the eye. Since the cells originally came from the patient, the patient’s body recognizes them and doesn’t reject or attack them.
5. Heart Disease
The heart can develop damaged or scarred areas which weaken its ability to function, and the method of giving a patient a heart transplant is limited by the number of available donors. Stem cell therapy offers another way to repair the heart. In this therapy, stem cells help the heart develop new tissue.
Cost of Stem Cell Therapy
Insurance companies usually cover a few generally accepted stem cell therapies, including those for leukemia and anemia. For anything considered experimental, patients must pay the stem cell therapy cost out of pocket. The cost can range from $5000 to over $25,000.
The Future of Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy continues to be studied for medical conditions including arthritis, macular degeneration, spinal cord injuries, and diabetes. As research continues, new uses of stem cell therapies will continue to emerge, providing more exciting options for treatment.
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