Some seek the formula of eternal youth, and molecular biology and genetic engineering laboratories worldwide are full of scientists in search of the key to deciphering human cell behaviour. But after discovering embryonic stem cells, as well as adult and induced pluripotent ones, scientists are now navigating in a sea of doubts. This promising scientific area is driving us to research the possibilities of applying human-origin cell therapies to treat diseases.
For the scientists who comprise Biocell Ultravital's molecular stem cell research division, we are also continuously exchanging knowledge and expanding our field of research with the immense support that is represented by the experience garnered during these last decades through the bioresearch institute. For them, the mission is difficult and it is a challenge to continue making advances in clinical developments in embryonic stem and adult cells as regards their advantages and disadvantages with respect to their use and therapeutic potential.
We are not clear as to which is the safest method for a future application of stem cells. What are the pros and cons of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells? We do not know very well how to go from one differentiated cell to another in a way that is 100% safe. These are questions that are also shared by the scientists who belong to the International Society for Stem Cell Research. The potential advantage of using adult stem cells is that the patient's own cells could be expanded in cultures and later reinserted in the patient. The use of the patient's own stem cells would mean that the cells would not be rejected by the immune system. This represents an advantage, whereas immunological rejection is a serious complication. Among the disadvantages, it has been pointed out that the majority of these cells have a limited auto-renewal, in addition to being very cumbersome and expensive to handle, with no guarantee of at least achieving a general revitalization for the recipient organ, but the most dangerous disadvantage is that the risk exists of possibly developing tumors, as confirmed by testing in animals.
The hopes deposited in the therapeutic possibilities of stem cells have two very clear paths to repair damaged tissues and solve genetic diseases, as indicated by Thomas Graf, coordinator of the Differentiation and Cancer program of the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG).
"Progress is slow," acknowledges Graf. "Each type of cell that we want to generate has its problem and all the scientists in the world are studying and developing formulas, although all are pursuing the same thing, from the U.S. to China, by way of France, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan and others."
If researchers lack a set course, what certainties can be given to patients? The inordinate publicity surrounding the advances in stem cell research has swayed the expectations of many patients and this lack of knowledge has given rise to the so-called stem cell tourism. There are clinics operating in China, Russia, some European countries, as well as in the U.S. and Latin America, with little regulation, and which promise miracle treatments thanks to the use of stem cells, not scientifically proven, to cure certain genetic pathologies.
This is uncontrollable, in addition to being irresponsible, and shows a lack of ethics, according to Yann Barrandon, director of the Dynamics of Stem Cells laboratory of Lausanne, Switzerland. To the traffic of persons in search of a non-existent cure, another question is added: If the treatment does not work and harms the patient, who assumes responsibility for the matter?
Making the full potential of cell therapy based on stem cells of human origin a reality still requires intense experimentation to be able to determine its risks and how to avoid them.
Simply learning how to cultivate stem cells and make them reproduce in the laboratory took twenty years of work. Many more years will be needed for this research area to advance as quickly as possible. The price of not doing so is paid daily in the diminished quality and duration of life of thousands of persons and all these scientific developments and research continue to be at the centre of bioethical, religious and political debates.
For now, the therapeutic arsenal of animal and plant origin remains at a high range that is almost indispensable for the pharmaceutical industry that produces and registers each year 100,000 new formulas derived in the fabrication of sundry medications for the cure and control of diseases in humans, such as insulin, adrenaline, corticoid, oestrogen-oestradiol, Vitamin B12. Amino acids are just some on the interminable list, in addition to the use of organs and glands of animal origin animal for transplantation in humans, through what is known as xenotransplantation.
At Biocell Ultravital, we are only one step away from broadening our therapeutic focus in every dimension. The future is tomorrow and the path of medicine should be to prevent without thinking of diagnosing; to regenerate without thinking of curing.