You may have heard about stem cell research and how it can help heal the body from a number of diseases but can it be used for addiction treatment? Before we answer that, it’s important that you understand what stem cells are and what they can do to heal the human body.
What are Stem Cells?
To put it simply, stem cells are cells that can grow into pretty much any type of tissue in the body. They can be found in embryos, umbilical cord blood, adult blood, or adult bone marrow. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, they can divide and multiply to form more cells called daughter cells. From there, these daughter cells can either become new stem cells on their own, or be modified to turn into other types of cells with more specific functioning, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells, bone cells, and so on. These are very unique, as no other cell in the human body can naturally generate new cell types. Stem cells in Arizona are increasingly getting more popular as we move into a more modern era of healthcare.
Where to Find Stem Cells
As we mentioned above, stem cells can be found in a few different places. Sources include:
- Embryonic stem cells – these cells come from 3–5 day old embryos called blastocysts. These usually have around 150 stem cells that can be harvested. They are known to be pluripotent, which means they can divide into more and be transformed into a specific stem cell that the body can use. Because of their versatility, embryonic stem cells can regenerate and help repair any damage tissue in the body.
- Adult stem cells – these are found in the adult tissues like fat or bone marrow and are usually in small numbers. Unlike the embryonic stem cells, these cells have limited ability to regenerate. Many researchers originally thought adult stem cells could only be converted to blood cells in bone marrow. But further research shows that they can also create various other types of cells and are currently being tested in people with heart and other neurological diseases. Adult stem cells can be reprogrammed and retain the properties of an embryonic one. This new technique is used by researchers to prevent the immune system from rejecting new ones. However, there is still an investigation as to whether these altered adult cells can result in any adverse effects if used in humans.
- Perinatal stem cells – these are found in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood. These also have the ability to change into specialized cells. Studies are being conducted further to understand this unique potential so it can be useful to future medical procedures.
Uses of Stem Cells
Stem cells are believed to be useful for:
- Understanding how diseases occur – this can be done by watching how stem cells evolve into mature cells in the heart muscle, bones, nerves as well as tissues and other organs in the body. Many doctors and researchers can understand how these conditions and diseases develop by how a stem cell reacts in these areas.
- Helps in replacing dead cells by generating new, healthy ones – unlike other cells, stem cells can be guided into becoming a specific cell which can be regenerated. Once they regenerate into this specific cell, they can then help in repairing or replacing the unhealthy tissues in the human body and promote faster healing. People with damage from strokes, skin burns, cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes and many others can benefit from these cell regeneration. Not only that, but they also have the potential to create entirely new organs via cloning. However, continued research is still being done to further understand how people can benefit from this application of stem cells.
- Used in testing new drugs to evaluate their effectiveness and safety – It can be difficult to run drug trials because of the danger it can pose to live human subjects. Large groups of people must volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way in order to ensure a drug’s safety and effectiveness for the general population. While this is an extremely necessary step to approving drugs for human consumption, there’s no denying that if the drug is not ready for use in humans, it can cause damage to test subjects. By testing the effects of the drugs on stem cells, we can minimize potential for harm to living human beings. For example, brain cells could be engineered to test a new medication for addiction, or even test an existing substance for its effects on the brain. These tests could show us what kinds of positive effects the drug had, or more importantly, if there was any harm done to the cells.
Role of Stem Cells in Treating Addiction
In the United States, an estimated 15 million adults suffer from addiction and alcohol use disorder. It has been estimated that 88,000 people die from alcohol-related issues while 72,000 people die each year due to drug overdose. That’s about 400 people dying each day due to illicit substances.
The main issue causing addiction is the erratic production of dopamine in the brain. This neurotransmitter is the one responsible for firing signals into the neurons. When the person is addicted, the drugs send false signals to these neurons and overrides them. In order to obtain the rush that the addicts feel, they will take in whatever drugs they can in order to achieve the same euphoria that they have felt before.
There are studies that show stem cells and acupuncture can work together to treat addiction. Researchers have found out that acupuncture and stem cell treatment can help calm down the inflammation that occurs in the addict’s brain. They can also help sever some of the physiological triggers that could lead a person to an addictive behavior. Stem cells can also stimulate increased blood supply to the cells and promote good communication in the nervous system.
Stem cell treatments and regenerative therapies have already been approved for treatment, such as bone marrow cell transplants to treat leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Scientists in Japan have even begun clinical trials in which Parkinson’s patients have adult stem cells injected into their brain to see if normal functioning can be restored.
Unfortunately, a lot of these treatments are far from being approved for clinical use, though the future looks very promising. For that reason, if you are struggling with addiction, it is crucial that you take action as soon as possible. You can’t wait for a miracle treatment that may be a decade or more away from being accessible, when there are effective and convenient treatment options for you right outside your front door. While current addiction treatment programs aren’t a “quick fix” solution, they are effective and they have been very successful in helping patients achieve lifelong sobriety. It will take time and effort on your part, but you will learn things along the way and find lasting peace within yourself that no miracle treatment could ever provide.
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