Updated: Apr 4
The discovery of stem cells in 1961 by two brilliant scientists, Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch, paved the way for the possible treatment of many diseases that were previously thought to be incurable.
Types of stem cells
Part of the Till and McCulloch discovery is highlighting the different types of stem cells. Think of these different types of stem cells as master cells with profound regenerating abilities.
For example, embryonic stem cells are extracted from embryos. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means that they can differentiate into any type of cell, such as in the liver, skin, brain or nerves.
Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are multipotent. They also have the ability to differentiate into new cells that are tissue-specific. Essentially, skin stem cells can only regenerate cells in the skin, but not in the liver or anywhere else.
Fortunately, scientists have now discovered a means for adult stem cells to mimic the pluripotent regenerative abilities of embryonic stem cells. These are named as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
Modern stem cell laboratories
The modern discovery by Dr. James Till, a biophysicist, and Dr. Ernest McCulloch, a cellular biologist, became the foundation on which many stem cell-based research and treatments are now being performed.
For instance, Stemcell Technologies Inc, a Vancouver-based biotechnology company, regularly produces thousands of tissue culture media types which are important for harvesting and cultivating stem cells. These are sold to clinical institutions around the globe, where they benefit millions of terminally ill patients.
Behind the success of stem cell companies
As companies like Stemcell show promising growth in a lucrative industry, they owe much of their success to the breakthrough discovery by Dr. Till and Dr. McCulloch.
Both scientists, Dr. Till and Dr. McCulloch, hailing from the Ontario Cancer Institute, published several research papers highlighting stem cells and their almost unbelievable abilities of self-regeneration, tissue repair, and transplant potential. Their discovery on stem cells is so significant that it is often hailed in comparison with the equally remarkable discovery of the DNA structure by James Watson and Francis Crick.
How stem cell research is moving forward
Like most modern discoveries, stem cell research was considered to be more theoretically important than it was clinically. At the outset, Dr. Till and Dr. McCulloch did not really get the attention they justifiably deserved for such an astounding discovery. Fortunately, because of the technical breakthroughs in science which included the development of tissue culture media, experts have finally started to comprehend the complex abilities of stem cells and their potential for curing diseases.
Stem cell transplant: Prevention or cure?
While there are still conservative doctors who insist on drugs, surgery, and radiation to manage terminal diseases like cancer, bone marrow diseases, metabolic conditions and spinal cord injury, stem cell transplant can actually treat them.
In fact, not long after the 1961 Till and McCulloch discovery, stem cells extracted from the bone marrow were already utilized to treat two common forms of cancer, namely leukemia and multiple myeloma. Now, stem cell transplants are used to cure autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rare illnesses like scleroderma and stiff person syndrome.
Over 80 diseases have been proven treatable
With so many technical advances in research, we can expect that stem cell transplants will cure more diseases in the near future. Moreover, there is also promising research suggesting stem cell transplants have the potential to treat blindness and diabetes. Although these areas of stem cell treatments require more clinical trials to produce significant outcomes, the potential for success is there.
Availability of stem cell treatments
So how exactly are stem cell treatments carried out? Apart from regeneration, stem cells are actually transplantable. However, prior to transplant, sourcing the stem cells is another concern.
Fortunately, many cord blood banks now exist to extract the very valuable stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of a newborn. Umbilical cord blood stem cells are stored, preserved, and kept safe within very controlled conditions to make sure they remain viable after decades of cryopreservation. With the extensive research being performed in the field of cord blood and stem cell banking, iPS cells may well be stored in cord blood banks, too.
More specifically, a family cord blood bank exists to exclusively store your baby’s own umbilical cord blood stem cells for future use. Family cord blood banks are now readily available in several countries, so sourcing stem cells are not as difficult as thought.
Whether or not you have a family history of cancer, lifestyle diseases and incurable conditions, or perhaps a genetic predisposition to any terminal disease, considering the advances in stem cells research and its potential to treat much more diseases, banking your baby’s cord blood is a valuable investment.