Stem Cells

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Why is there controversy surrounding the use of stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells and embryonic stem cell lines have received much public attention concerning the ethics of their use or non-use. Clearly, there is hope that a large number of treatment advances could occur as a result of growing and differentiating these embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. It is equally clear that each embryonic stem cell line has been derived from a human embryo created through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or through cloning technologies, with all the attendant ethical, religious, and philosophical problems, depending upon one's perspective.

What are some stem cell therapies that are currently available?

Routine use of stem cells in therapy has been limited to blood-forming stem cells (hematopoietic stem cells) derived from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood. Bone marrow transplantation is the most familiar form of stem cell therapy and the only instance of stem cell therapy in common use. It is used to treat cancers of the blood cells (leukemias) and other disorders of the blood and bone marrow.

In bone marrow transplantation, the patient's existing white blood cells and bone marrow are destroyed using chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Then, a sample of bone marrow (containing stem cells) from a healthy, immunologically matched donor is injected into the patient. The transplanted stem cells populate the recipient's bone marrow and begin producing new, healthy blood cells.

Umbilical cord blood stem cells and peripheral blood stem cells can also be used instead of bone marrow samples to repopulate the bone marrow in the process of bone marrow transplantation.

In 2009, the California-based company Geron received clearance from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin the first human clinical trial of cells derived from human embryonic stem cells in the treatment of patients with acute spinal cord injury.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/3/2015

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