When it comes to medical treatments, what sounds like science fiction today could someday become the standard in life-changing medicine. If the research turns out as hoped, stem cells — the "master cells" inside our bodies from which all other cells are generated and formed — could potentially become the leading treatment option in the fight against pretty much everything that ails us.
According to a story by U.S. News & World Report, researchers, including those at Mayo Clinic's Rochester and Florida campuses, are taking a good, hard look at whether stem cell therapy could heal or even replace parts of the body damaged by disease, illness or injury.
Writer Stacey Colino notes that the cells in question are not embryonic stem cells, but rather adult stem cells found in our own bone marrow, fat and skin. "These 'master cells,'" she writes, "operate as a kind of internal repair system because they can replicate in a continuous fashion to replenish other cells or morph into cells with specialized functions."
It's become increasingly clear, Atta Behfar, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist and director of Mayo Clinic's Van Cleve Cardiac Regenerative Medicine program, tells Colino, that adult stem cells have the ability to "teach the body to heal from within." For example, Dr. Behfar tells Colino that adult stem cells injected into a heart damaged by heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest won't "serve as the brick and mortar" to repair that damaged heart. But the "proteins and other substances" the stem cells secrete "tell your body to heal."
And that's a "noteworthy" development, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D., chair of neurosurgery and director of Mayo Clinic's Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Laboratory in Florida, tells Colino. Although "few drugs can cross the blood-brain barrier," stem cells injected into the body's carotid arteries can. And when they do, Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa says they can "act as Trojan horses and begin to kill cancer cells."
In addition to the research highlighted by Colino and U.S. News, several other reports show how Mayo Clinic researchers are diving deeper into the potential healing power of stem cells. Like a story from the Mayo Clinic News Network, that describes how researchers at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus recently used bone marrow stem cells to conduct "the world's first prospective, blinded and placebo-controlled clinical study" to investigate whether the cells can help reduce arthritic pain and disability in patients' knees. And stories from Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine blog that talk about how Mayo Clinic investigators are researching the use of stem cells to potentially treat everything from liver injuries to Crohn's disease to hypoplastic left heart syndrome to ALS .