The idea behind regenerative medicine is to enable medicine to use human cells as therapies. This means that instead of using artificial joints and other implants we currently use for healing, we could use cells that would regenerate our own tissues. According to World Economic Forum, the current market for stem cell therapies is growing at 36% per year and will rapidly expand when a breakthrough treatment for non-communicable disease or a lifestyle factor occurs.
The research space is vibrant. However, apart from the field of hematology where stem cell transplantation is used for the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, other treatments are not yet routine or necessarily approved. Unfortunately, however, because of the potential and promise of regenerative medicine, over 700 clinics in the US offer expensive stem cell therapy claiming it can heal anything from knee pain, asthma, congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, and more. Let me repeat: these claims are not scientifically proven. Sometimes patients run out of options. Their condition is so serious that they would give anything just to get a chance at survival or quality of life improvement. This is also why stem cell clinics have clients that are willing to pay a lot to see a glimpse of improvement. It can cost them much more than just money. In a comprehensive article, the BBC reported that at least 17 patients were hospitalised over the past year in the US after umbilical cord blood injections. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed a series of bacterial infections. Most of these patients were treated at orthopedic, chiropractor, and pain clinics and were given injections into their spines, knees, and shoulders.
Cell therapies are a very broad field, with stem cells just a segment of it. There are a lot of futuristic ideas as to where cell therapy could go. If you remember, in 2019 Israeli researchers presented the first 3D-printed heart with cells and blood vessels. Someday in the future, we will hopefully see 3D printed tissues and organs. To see where we are today, I spoke with prof. Frank Barry - Senior Scientist at the UHN Arthritis Programme at the Krembil Research Institute and Professor of Cellular Therapy at the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI), National University of Ireland Galway.
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