Stem cells are the basic units from which the entire body of a human being develops. These are a group of cells from which all 210 diverse types of tissue such as muscle cells, blood cells, nerve cells and even new teeth in the human body originate (National Bioethics Advisory Commission, 1999). Stem cells divide and differentiate into specific functions such as heart, muscle, blood, or brain cells in a human body (National Institutes of Health, 2000).
Scientists have realized the potential of these cells and are using them in the upcoming field of regenerative medicine. Human stem cells can be obtained from a number of sources. The first is in vitro fertilization treatment, where surplus embryos are donated for research with the consent of the donor rather than being destroyed following treatment. The second source is aborted tissue where stem cells are taken from the aborted foetus. Umbilical cord blood is also rich in stem cells and is harvested following the baby’s birth.
Stem Cells in Regenerative Medicine
Research on stem cells has provided enough evidence of making them uniquely situated to treat a broad spectrum of human diseases especially its application in regenerative medicine. The most important property that has helped the stem cell is the potential to divide or multiply indefinitely in culture. Science and technology have developed in such a way that scientists hope to use these cells to develop new tissues, treatments and organs for transplantation.
Today, human beings are faced with several health challenges that include stroke, injury, diabetes, cancers in various parts of the body including breast, ovary, testicle, blood, kidney, skin and multiple myeloma, autoimmune diseases and many other conditions. Human stem cell research is said to promise new life changing treatments and possible cures for many of these devastating diseases and injuries. Scientists also hope to use these potential cells to replace dysfunctional cells in vital organs such as the brain, kidneys, spinal cord, pancreas, and other organs (Young, 2003).
Researchers are increasingly studying the human embryonic-stem-cell pluripotency to find precise cell lineages for tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and treatments. For instance, some studies are conducted on mice for the identification and isolation of embryonic stem cells (Evans and Kaufman, 1981; Martin, 1981). According to the studies by Stevens and Pierce teratocarcinoma contained cells had a multilineage perspective. In fact, it is the pioneering work of segregation of embryonic stem cells from primates and later from human blastocysts that helped the initiation of research in the field of regenerative medicine (Vats, et al. 2005).
Stem Cells Application in Kidney Disease
A kidney is a vital organ that has been reported to have been linked with several problems and diseases. Before the advent of stem cell research, transplantation of this organ was the only option with the medical sciences when there was a total failure and transplantation included the risk of organ rejection. Besides, recent years have witnessed an increase in the incidence of chronic renal failure as a consequence of obesity-induced type-II diabetes. In fact, patients realize this when it becomes a very serious condition because of its asymptomatic property until kidney function is permanently impaired (Gardner, 2007). Today, human embryonic stem cells provide a promising step towards a complete solution for this problem.
Regenerative medicine and its applications are increasingly accepted as an emerging field especially in the field of nephrology. When it comes to acute renal failure (ARF) or chronic renal failure (CRF) tissue regeneration is gaining considerable attention as the next generation of therapy. For instance, regenerative medicine for ARF has been researched extensively to find out renal stem cells that can be used to replace the injured kidney cells.
Additionally, there are also studies to identify key molecules which will help the reprogramming of the quiescent tissue stem cells to aid in renal repair. Studies have found that before the total renal failure, there is a good possibility to restore its functioning by reactivating quiescent renal stem cells (Yokoo, et al. 2007). However, in case of total failure, it would only be possible if the complete kidney is developed. There are studies on the stem cells with the potential to differentiate into mature renal cells (Yokoo, et al. 2007). However, several controversial issues and risks are involved in these processes.
The possibility of kidney regeneration for the treatment of hereditary renal diseases is also an upcoming area of research. Researchers have identified that if a neonate is devoid of a specific gene that may be involved in the future hereditary renal disease, such as Fabry disease, it is possible to take the bone marrow from the mother and resolve the problem by transferring mesenchymal stem cells with the missing or defective gene.
Though several researchers are working on this emerging field of regenerative medicine for renal diseases, it is yet to be completely established. However, it can be said that this is a promising field for patients with renal disease and are on life-long dialysis (Yokoo, et al. 2007). Finally, if we look at the risks involved with regenerative medicine, it can be said that stem cells especially the undifferentiated embryonic stem cell transplantation therapy have a high risk of formation of teratoma tumours. It is also possible that these treatments may give rise to undesired tissues. Therefore, it is only possible to overcome these problems through long-term studies especially in the case of potential hazards such as tumour formation or the expansion of cells from other lineages (Reubinoff, 2004).
Stem cell research has the potential to find remedies for many of these diseases. Scientists also hope to use these potential cells to replace dysfunctional cells in different parts of the body including the kidneys. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to promote stem cell research and its application in regenerative medicine. This field of science provides promising scope for the cure and replacement of injured organs like the kidney, brain, heart, and pancreas. The adult, as well as the embryonic stem cell, has provided encouraging results. In conclusion, it can be said that stem cells are an answer to multiple problems and research need to be encouraged.
Evans, M.J and Kaufman, M.H. (1981) Establishment in culture of pluripotential cells from mouse embryos. Nature; 292: 154–56.
Gardner, R.L. (2007) Stem cells and regenerative medicine: principles, prospects and problems. C. R. Biologies; 330: 465–473.
Martin, G.R. (1981) Isolation of a pluripotent cell line from early mouse embryos cultured in medium conditioned by teratocarcinoma stem cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA; 78: 7634–38.
National Bioethics Advisory Commission (1999). Executive summary: Ethical issues in human stem cell research. Web.
National Institutes of Health (2000). Stem cells: A primer. Web.
Reubinoff, B. (2004) Human embryonic stem cells—potential applications for regenerative medicine. International Congress Series; 1266: 45– 53.
Vats, A., Bielby, R. C., Tolley, N. S., Nerem, R. and Polak J. M. (2005) Stem cells. Lancet; 366: 592–602.
Yokoo, T., Fukui, A. and Kobayashi, E. (2007) Application of Regenerative Medicine for Kidney Diseases. Landes Bioscience, Organogenesis 3:1, 34-43.
Young, A.V. (2003) Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. The Church of the England. Second edition.: pp 2-16.