Scientists have exploited the natural ability of the human body to heal different chronic and disabling diseases by discovering stem cells. The term “stem cells” refers to precursor cells with the capacity for self-renewal and clonogenicity that can develop into a variety of cell lineages. Stem cells are present in all human beings throughout their life period (Biehl & Russell, 2009).
For therapy, stem cells are obtained from the genetically compatible donor and then manipulated in vitro. The selection of a particular stem cell type depends on the medical condition which is to be treated. These cells undergo mitotic divisions and differentiate into specialised cells i.e. cardiac, blood or nerve cells, under the action of specific transcription factors. The differentiated cells are then implanted into the patient at the target site, to treat diseases like cardiac or neurological disorders (Lunn JS et al., 2011). Moreover, pluripotent stem cells, are well known for their immunomodulatory capacities, used to treat various diseases including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, inflammatory bowel diseases, stroke, kidney diseases and blood disorders (Kolios & Moodley, 2013).
Stem cell therapy holds the key to the future of organ transplantation. The world’s first functional livers have reportedly been created by Japanese scientists using a variety of stem cells. The tiny livers were developed in the lab and then implanted into mice, performing similar tasks as human-sized livers. Another significant advancement is the creation of the mammary gland and prostate acini in mice using only single stem cells (Liu et al., 2013). Following the lead of affluent nations including the USA, the UK, and Canada, other developing nations, like Iran, Turkey, and India, are spending heavily on stem cell research. Pakistan is working to build this field to reap the intended benefits, however, the rate of progress is extremely slow. In 2012, Pakistan Stem Cells Society was founded to promote stem cell therapy. Numerous research projects on stem cells have been approved by the Higher Education Commission and Pakistan Science Foundation. Currently, mesenchymal stem cell therapy in the regeneration of cardiac tissue is working at the University of Karachi.
Another project by King Edward Medical University, Lahore is launched for the treatment of heart diseases. The current project of PSF is enhancing the potential of cardiomyocytes (Zahra et al., 2015). In Pakistan, haematological malignancies, type-1 diabetes, aplastic anaemia and ß-thalassemia major are the potential target disorders for transplant (Jackson et al., 2001). Acute myeloid leukaemia is treated by stem cell therapy in Dr Ziauddin Hospital. About 350 allogeneic stem cell transplants have been performed at the Armed Forces Bone Marrow Transplant Centre, Rawalpindi (Ullah et al., 2008).
Progress of stem cell therapy in Pakistan is slow due to a lack of funding, specialised machinery and skilled expertise. Since stem cell therapy can be used to cure leukaemia, anaemia, thalassemia, and immunological deficiencies. Therefore, stem cell therapy seems to be a sign of hope for patients, suffering from these fatal diseases. Although lack of awareness about stem cell therapy is a major cause of limited facilities and research studies in the country. Awareness should be provided to the common man by utilizing print media as well as electronic media. Laboratories and hospital research institutions must be collaborated to enhance the success rate of regenerative medicine involving stem cells (Daud et al., 2020). The government should perform an active role in promoting research. Not only patients will get benefited but also the medical community involving medical students, health care professionals and research students for research purposes. A centre of excellence should be established in the field of stem cells, which would act as an indigenous source of samples taken from the Pakistani population. This would automatically increase the successful treatment ratios due to reduced rejection of transplants. Sampling from the common public would be beneficiary as it would reduce the number of imported stem cell stocks and would prove more cost-effective.
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