Because of their plasticity, mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to differentiate into many other cell types, making them a valuable tool in Regenerative Medicine, a new medical sector which has been showing impressive results over the last few years. Regenerative Medicine deals with the regeneration of tissue and organs as well as with tissue engineering to replace or repair entire sections of tissue.
Addressing skeletal problems
Mesenchymal stem cells will fill in bone deterioration or injury in a rather short time span, thus improving the functioning of the joint.
Scientists have reported the repair of an orthopedic trauma by injecting over 50.000 mesenchymal stem cells. Many other cases confirm that mesenchymal stem cells are central to research on the treatment of orthopedic injuries and traumas, fractures and diseases of the skeletal system such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. The results of preclinical studies are encouraging.
Three other cases have been documented which describe the successful transplantation of autologous bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells in three patients aged 16 to 41 years old with fractures of the limbs. Within 15-27 months after the transplantations, the patients regained mobility in the limbs. The difficulty, in general, of successfully dealing with skeletal problems is the use of appropriate "scaffolding" that will act as a mold or support for the growth of the mesenchymal stem cells and of finding materials that can be absorbed by the body.
In this context, the mesenchymal stem cells are being used as "scaffolding" with satisfactory results so far. Specifically, mesenchymal stem cells were used as scaffolding on 14 patients with jaw problems who exhibited significant improvement during the 2 years following the transplantation. The research to date indicates that two challenges must be overcome, the application of a sufficient number of stem cells and the simultaneous administration of agents that can reduce inflammation.
Treatment of heart disease
The ability of mesenchymal stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue is equally important in the treatment of heart diseases, such as myocardial infarction, ischemic cardiomyopathy and angina. To date, more than 1,000 patients with heart dysfunctions have been given mesenchymal cells with a significant improvement of their clinical condition. Bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells have been successfully used in bypass surgery, a procedure which is already done in our country.
Also, phase I and II clinical trials have been successfully completed on individuals with cardiomyopathies. The process entails the intracoronary administration of umbilical cord blood mesenchymal stem cells. The cardiac function of patients improved dramatically, and after 6 months healing was observed in the walls of the heart. Mesenchymal stem cells offer significant medical potential because they can be used in clinical applications with relative ease.
Dealing with neurological diseases
The differentiation of mesenchymal cells into neural cells is extremely important and promising in addressing a wide range of neurological diseases such as ischemia after a stroke, intracranial hemorrhage, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's Parkinson, Huntington disease, brain damage, retinal damage of the eye and epilepsy.
A study published in the scientific journal of «International Archives of Medicine» in 2008, describes the use of umbilical cord blood mesenchymal cells on a 29-year old man to treat a serious spine injury. The application of cells in the spinal region did not have any negative effects on the patient; on the contrary, the patient continues to show significant improvement in his muscular, neurological and sexual functions.
Improve lung functions
Recent publications report the potential for therapeutic use of mesenchymal stem cells to improve lung functions in patients with cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The highlight of these applications is the recently performed successful transplantation of a synthetic trachea created from bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells.
Rehabilitation of skin and aesthetic medicine
Mesenchymal stem cells are already making a significant impact in the regeneration of skin. Specifically, mesenchymal stem cells are used in the treatment of various skin diseases, in treating injuries and burns, and in cosmetic procedures such as smoothing wrinkles, reconstructing or augmenting breasts, and in the removal of acne scars.
It is also important to note that the use of mesenchymal stem cells with patients that suffer from diabetic ulcers and bed sores contributes to partial healing, angiogenesis induction, reduction of the dependence on pain medication and avoidance of the need to amputate.
In cosmetic medicine, patients are transplanted a combination of their own adipose tissue stem cells and fat. The fat eventually gets absorbed by their body while the stem cells restore the damage.
Finally, the creation of synthetic organs with mesenchymal stem cells can reduce the problems caused by the unavailability of donor organs. It has been reported that scientists have already created a model of a fully functional liver, human skin, and artificial valves and vessels.