Stem cell research has made significant progress to date. But it has also been the subject of much debate, and a great deal of research is still needed to develop novel therapies. A Working Group appointed by the Class for Medical Sciences of the Royal Swedish Academy of Scienceswrote this statement to explain the science behind some much-discussed issues.
Many illnesses, such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, are characterised by cell loss. Stem cell research has attracted keen interest and raised hopes for new therapies to replace the lost cells.
For the past few decades, two well-established stem cell therapies have been used routinely and saved many lives. One is bone marrow transplantation, where blood-forming stem cells from the bone marrow are transplanted to treat various types of leukaemia, for example. In the other, skin transplantation, new skin is made from the patient’s own skin stem cells for the treatment of severe burns. In addition to transplantation, there are pharmacological compounds that promote new cell production by the patient’s own stem cells. One such compound is erythropoietin, which stimulates production of red blood cells and offers an alternative to blood transfusion.