Stem Cell Therapy and Research in India – Issues and Challenges

Rakesh Kumar Rishi

Abstract: Stem cell therapy and research has been proclaimed to be a miracle remedy for a variety of ailments and has been offered as a panacea by institutions across the country. With a large number of centres throughout the country, India is at the forefront of stem cell research and therapy. Understandably, there are some controversies and issues surrounding stem cell therapy. Since stem cell therapies are nearly all new and experimental, there is a need to regulate them with effective legislation.
Stem cells can differentiate into the specific cells required for repairing damaged or defective tissues or cells. Stem cell based therapies, involving collection, purification, manipulation, characterization, and delivery of cells for therapeutic purposes, have existed since the first successful bone marrow transplantation in 1968. Most cells in the body multiply to form the same kind of cell, such as skin, blood, kidney, etc. Stem cells are special cells that have the ability to multiply and differentiate into various types of cells with different functions. With this unique quality, researchers are trying to use stem cells to repair various tissues in the body. Stem cells can be either obtained from foetuses or from embryos. They can also be obtained from other locations such as umbilical cord and bone marrow. Stem cells can be obtained from, processed and used on the same person (called autologous stem cell therapy) or on another person (called allogenic stem cell therapy). Stem cells can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person or animal is still alive. The stem cells are of two types: pluripotent and multipotent. Pluripotent stem cells are those which can give rise to any type of cell in the body except those needed to support and develop a fetus in the womb. Multipotent stem cells can give rise only to a small number of different cell types. Non-embryonic, or “adult” stem cells have also been discovered in many organs and tissues. Stem cells are believed to inhabit in a specific area of each tissue (called a “stem cell niche”), where they may remain dormant (non-dividing) for many years until they are activated by a normal need for more cells, or by disease or tissue injury. These cells are also called somatic stem cells. Stem cell lines grown in the laboratory provide researchers with the opportunity to programme them for use in transplantation or treatment of diseases. With this unique ability, stem cells have potential in many different areas of health and medical research.



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