By Mohamed Adel
Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer's and plenty of other diseases...they all have something in common; They can’t be cured and the damage they do to the human body is irreversible.
When Alzheimer’s for example takes over, it causes dementia and kills off the patient’s brain cells. Due to the accumulation of two proteins called Amyloid and Tau proteins. Although normally essential to the human being but once the disease kicks in, the former accumulates inside the neurons and creates plaques blocking-off the transmission of signals while the latter creates protein tangles. This causes the deterioration of the brain cells and eventually kills them off.
This is an extremely dangerous issue because unlike other cells throughout the body, neurons or brain cells can not be renewed.
This is where Stem Cells research comes into the picture. All cells of the human body start-out as undifferentiated stem cells that after growth, get segmented into the different cells that build-up the body, Whether red blood cells or cells building fat tissues, they all start-out as stem cells.
Stem cell research aims to control the differentiation process of these stem cells to force them to turn into brain cells which can later be used to replace the damaged or dead cells in the brain. Although this all sounds so magical and easy, it isn't. Repairing the damage done by the disease doesn’t mean that you have taken it out. The new cells are still in danger of being killed-off by the very same mechanism that killed their predecessors.
That’s why Stem Cell Research is also studying the behaviour of the disease on cells created in the laboratory so that they can find out how to eliminate the disease. There are three sources that researchers depend on while gathering stem cells.
First is the bone marrow which requires samples gathered from people but it forces them to go through painful procedures. The second is gathering them from artificially created embryos in laboratories created by donor sperm and egg called Embryonic Stem Cells. This usually involves killing the embryo. But this second method is considered by many to be unethical and inhumane because they consider these embryos to be human beings which have every right to live as a normal human beings.
The third source is the most efficient and ethically acceptable one which is creating what is called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. Researchers genetically reprogram the already differentiated cells to bring it back to the Stem Cell phase and then programming it to the desired type of differentiated cells.
Stem Cells Research is a very promising field which is garnering huge attention from researchers around the world. We have here in Egypt one of the best research centers in the Middle East, established in Zewail City by Professor Nagwa El-Badri. Will SCR be able to live up to our expectations? That will be answered in the coming days as research develops and we get solid results.