Baldness is potentially curable by stem cells, by creating hair follicles in a lab and then implanting them in a patient. This has been observed on multiple occasions and can be done using the patient’s bone marrow stem cells making the procedure ethically acceptable. This treatment should be available on the global market by 2010.
Deafness can be treated by regrowing cochlea hairs in the ear. The cochlea are crucial hairs in the part of the inner ear that registers sound. The hairs act like miniature microphones in the ear which amplify sounds and translate them into nerve signals. Successful tests have been carried out on guinea pigs in 2005 which have shown that it is possible to cur deafness with stem cell technology. In humans there are still a few problems to be addressed as the inner ear is deep within the skull and virtually inaccessible via surgery and it is possible that the human immune system will react to the treatment, but otherwise it is a viable option in human beings.
Professor Takashi Tsuji, a researcher at the University of Tokyo has successfully cloned a tooth; using cells from a mouse embryo formed a full mouse tooth that was successfully implanted into another mouse. Adult human stem cells are also possible candidates for the regrowth of human teeth, using cells extracted from bone marrow and the gums which can form not only teeth, but more importantly - roots. Whole teeth have been successfully regrown in laboratories and will soon be usable for dental purposes. It is estimated that this treatment will be available to the general public in 2009.
Blindness and vision impairment is another application of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells have been used to form thin stem cell sheets that will repair a damaged retina. 40 patients have been successfully been treated using this technique. In 2004, fetal stem cells were used to cure Elizabeth Bryant of the disease retinitis pigmentosa and in two and a half years following her vision improved from 20:800 to 20:84. She was the sixth person to be treated for either retinitis pigmentosa or macular degeneration with embryonic stem cells. Although the procedures can heal harmful diseases they are not 100% effective and Fetus stem cells are used provoking also ethical issues.
Cell therapy will also be available, curing diseases such as Parkinson’s, and glaucoma.
As clearly visible from the above, Stem cells can have a step change on the working of society and redefine medicine as we know it. Research is being done to promote the use of non fetal stem cells for ethical reasons, and although the research still has a long way to go, it has the potential to same hundreds of thousands of lives in the future. Another advantage is that for many procedures the patient will be able to use their own cells and the ethical problems will be solved.