Stem cell therapies are revolutionizing health care, but patient awareness of which practices are safe and effective is essential.
The personalized medicine approach
Personalized medicine treatments are designed specifically for you. Advancements in genomics, stem cell biology, traditional medicine, epidemiology and manufacturing all contribute to the creation of custom-tailored therapies.
Your DNA influences how your body reacts, so each personalized treatment is tailored to your unique genes. Gone are one-size-fits-all approaches for therapeutics. Personalized medicine produces better results and has sparked an interest in developing new therapies for even for the rarest conditions. A major focal point in developing these therapies lies in unlocking the potential of stem cells.
Stem cell-based personal medicine therapies
It all goes back to the very essence of what stem cells are: unique cells that can develop into any type of tissue in the body, like blood, nerve, muscle, organ or skin.
Recently, researchers have found a way to make cells revert back to their primitive state to form what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Scientists can then encourage the cells to become a new type of cell that might be too difficult to take directly from the patient. Doctors can then observe the new cells to understand how to treat a patient’s disease or even create new treatments directly from these cells. For instance, a type 1 diabetic’s iPSCs could be turned into pancreatic islet cells in the lab. Different types of medication could then be tested directly in a petri dish, and ideal treatment options could be determined without the burden of a trial-and-error period for the patient.
Cell and gene therapies are very promising and have already started changing patients’ lives.
Individualized cell and gene therapies
Personalized medicine involves more than just diagnostics — it also involves therapies which are already being translated to clinics. Two therapies have already been approved in Canada using something called CAR-T cells. The therapies involve extracting a patient’s immune cells, modifying them in the lab to recognize and attack cancer cells, and then re-implanting them. Similarly, out-of-body “reprogramming” techniques have been used on patients with debilitating skin conditions and severe burns.
Some rare diseases may be treated by infusing gene therapies directly into patients. In this method, cells are edited while they’re still inside a patient’s body. These techniques can be tailored to mutations that may only exist in a single person. Cell and gene therapies are very promising and have already started changing patients’ lives.
Unproven therapy clinics take advantages of the term “personalized medicine”
While stem cells are a pivotal part of the development of personalized medicine, it’s important to know that just because a treatment uses your cells, doesn’t mean it’s truly personalized medicine. It can be confusing, as clinics offering unproven stem cell therapies are well aware. Bad faith clinics often play with words to cover up that you are actually receiving an unproven, and potentially dangerous, therapy.
Awareness is key
Although promising stem cell discoveries are currently working their way through clinical trials, most of these treatments are not yet available to the Canadian public. Health Canada only approves therapies after they have proven their safety and efficacy. You may have heard a lot of hype in the past year about stem cells, and you may even have been contacted by clinics that claim to have personalized medicine treatments. It’s safe to say that you should be skeptical of any treatment offered outside of a hospital setting, and if you are required to pay for them yourself.