THINK ON THESE: Henrylito Tacio

What do former President Joseph Estrada, former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (who is again running for the Senate in the forthcoming May election) have one thing in common?

All three had reportedly undergone stem cell therapy, that’s what.

In Hollywood, some celebrities rumored to have done the same include American pop star Madonna (of “Like a Virgin” and “La Isla Bonita” distinction) and actresses Sharon Stone (who made a splash when she appeared in “Basic Instinct”) and Halle Berry (Oscared for her tour de force performance in 2002’s “Monster’s Ball”).

Stem cell treatment is considered to be the revolution of cellular medicine in the 21st century. Thousands of patients around the globe have already benefited from using stem cell delivered safely by skilled and certified physicians. Diseases once considered incurable are responding well to stem cell treatment and are restoring hope to patients who thought they had lost their lives forever.

Actually, stem cells are “precursor cells present in the embryo of any species, and they have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth,” explains an article which appeared in Health and Lifestyle.

Scientists describe stem cells as “a sort of internal repair system,” which divides and multiplies itself almost without limit to replenish other cells provided the person or animal is still alive.

“Each new stem cell produced by the division of the original stem cells has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a cardiac, brain or nerve cell,” the H&L article explains.

“Stem cells can be classified as embryonic or adult, depending on their tissue of origin,” notes Professor Thomas P. Zwaka from the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

“The role of adult stem cells is to sustain an established repertoire of mature cell types in essentially steady-state numbers over the lifetime of the organism.  Although adult tissues with a high turnover rate, such as blood, skin, and intestinal epithelium, are maintained by tissue-specific stem cells, the stem cells themselves rarely divide. However, in certain situations, such as during tissue repair after injury or following transplantation, stem cell divisions may become more frequent,” Prof. Zwaka explained.

From the medical standpoint, the potential is that “stem cell therapy can literally replace old malfunctioning cells and make them like those of a young healthy person.  They can be used to replace cells that are lost or damaged from disease, old age, or injury.”

For example, it may become possible to generate healthy heart muscle cells in the laboratory and then transplant those cells into patients with chronic heart disease. Preliminary research in mice and other animals indicates that bone marrow stromal cells, transplanted into a damaged heart, can have beneficial effects.

Researchers are looking forward to new technologies that will be able to treat a wide variety of debilitating conditions, such as spinal-cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and muscle damage.

“The tissue that scientists most associate with adult stem cell activity is the bone marrow,” wrote William Faloon in Life Extension Magazine.  “Each day, stem cells in the bone marrow evolve to produce red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  These mature cells are then released into the bloodstream where they perform their vital life-supporting functions.”

Aside from bone marrow, sources of stem cells that are currently being used are the umbilical cord, blood vessels, brain tissues, adipose tissue, skeletal muscle, skin and liver.

All these stem cells “have the potential to repair, restore, replace and regenerate cells.”  And some studies have shown that “certain stem cells can grow into new tissue. “But do they provide a therapeutic effect?” asked Dr. David Siu, clinical associate professor at the cardiology division of Hong Kong’s Queen Mary Hospital, as quoted by Reuters. “We don’t have the evidence yet. Some are in clinical research.”

Currently, there are several international researches and studies being done on stem cell therapy.  Mexico, South Korea, Ukraine, and China are some countries starting to carry out such treatments.   In the Philippines, stem cell therapy was only introduced some years ago and its focus at that time was its role in cancer treatment.

In the United States, the only stem cell-based products that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use consist of blood-forming stems cells derived from cord blood.

“Although stem cell therapy appears to be a very promising form of treatment for many types of degenerative diseases, there are also adverse effects which the public needs to be aware of,” cautions Dr. Reuben Ricallo in a report which appeared in “Vital Signs,” a publication for healthcare professionals.

In the United States, one patient reportedly became blind due to an injection of stem cells into the eye.  Another patient received a spinal cord injection that caused the growth of a spinal tumor.

The US FDA, in its website, cites the other potential safety concerns for unproven treatments, which are: administration site reactions; the ability of cells to move from placement sites and change into inappropriate cell types or multiply; failure of cells to work as expected; and the growth of tumors.

“Even if stem cells are your own cells,” the FDA states, “there are still safety risks.  In addition, if cells are manipulated after removal, there is a risk of contamination of the cells.