What diseases and conditions can be treated with stem cells?

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The most well-established and widely used stem cell treatment is the transplantation of blood stem cells to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers. The US National Marrow Donor Program has a full list of diseases treatable by blood stem cell transplant.  More than 26,000 patients are treated with blood stem cells in Europe each year.

Since the 1970s, skin stem cells have been used to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns on very large areas of the body. Only a few clinical centres are able to carry out this treatment and it is usually reserved for patients with life-threatening burns. It is also not a perfect solution: the new skin has no hair follicles or sweat glands. Research aimed at improving the technique is ongoing.

A new stem-cell-based treatment to repair damage to the cornea (the surface of the eye) after an injury like a chemical burn, called Holoclar, has recently received conditional approval in Europe.

Currently, these are the only stem cell therapies that have been thoroughly established as safe and effective treatments.

Some other applications of stem cells, for a range of conditions, are being investigated in clinical trials. It is still too early to know whether any of these applications will work. We need the evidence gathered through a clinical trial process to determine whether a proposed treatment is safe and effective.

All treatments should be considered experimental until they have successfully passed all the stages of clinical trials required to test a new therapy thoroughly. Only then can a treatment be approved for widespread use.

Stem cell treatments are all specialist procedures. They should be performed only in specialized centers authorized by national health authorities.

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Last updated: 
1 Sep 2015