Although several controversies surround the subject of stem cells, the miraculous properties they hold in terms of their differentiation potential to give rise to a wide range of cell types offer the possibilities of capitalizing on stem cell research to generate novel therapies and treatment alternatives for several disease conditions.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (ti.frost.com), Developments in Stem Cell Research, finds that the opportunity to exploit the properties of cell division and pluripotency, a feature unique to stem cells in regenerative therapy has been vital to the emergence of stem cell research.
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The adult stem cells have been employed for over three decades in various therapeutic applications to save and prolong several lives. They can be readily obtained from the adult tissues such as the bone marrow, heart and brain and can be cultured in vitro to yield desired, specialized cell types, tissues or organs under appropriate conditions. Deriving patients’ own adult stem cells would limit the risk of graft versus host tissue incompatibility associated with organ transplants.
The embryonic stem cells, which are the only true pluripotent stem cells can self-sustain without specialization in in vitro cultures over several passages and could be directed to specialize to all the primary cell types of a body. They generate optimism in terms of offering a one-off cure in which living cells would replace the use of pills. However, there are several ethical and regulatory issues that proscribe the procurement and use of stem cells derived from a human embryo.
These ethical, legal and social issues have burgeoned out of the concerns of certain conservatives and religious groups who liken the harvesting of stem cells from an embryo to abortion or killing. These apparently stall the progress of embryonic stem cells research – a science with a potential impact on healthcare delivery across the globe.
“The regulatory and moral issues have lead to a blatant bias in the government funding of embryonic stem cells over adult stem cells that would temper the pace with which stem cells research could landmark the scientific sector”, notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Vanitha S V.
The funding for stem cell research, especially embryonic stem cell research is evidently miniscule in comparison with the substantial amount of money being invested in drug development and conventional research, considering both private and public funding.
Till date, activities in stem cell research have been pursued in isolation. Although existing policies provide funding for research carried under the auspices of the government, they limit the kind of research that can be carried out. Private firms in most countries need to comply with the federal regulations and therefore, are strictly limited in exploiting the true potential of stem cells.
While countries such as the United States and Canada have invested liberally for the cause of stem cell research, the funding does not cover embryonic stem cells derived post 2001 and does not apply to private firms engaging in stem cell research.
“Encouraging active collaborations between private and government research institutions for stem cell research can strengthen the existing workforce dedicated to stem cell research,” says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Bhuvaneashwar Subramanian. “This is likely to attract funding possibilities, which could significantly accelerate stem cell research.”
Future trends in stem cell research seem constructive with the likelihood of significant progress in areas including development of therapeutic solutions for the major disorders such as neural, cardiac, and cancer-based maladies. Understanding the stem cell science would yield insights into the inscrutable processes associated with developmental science leading to formulate therapies for genetic disorders and birth defects.
“In a nutshell, the stem cell research is at infancy. The progress is slow but commendably steady”, says Vanitha. “Given that the technical challenges are tackled systematically, and ethical and regulatory stigmas attached to the procurement of embryonic stem cells are tempered, stem cell research could take a huge leap of success in the next few decades to hit the clinics for therapeutic use.”
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