What is Cell Therapy?

Melanie Smeltzer

Cell therapy is a treatment used to help cure a number of diseases by replacing dysfunctional or diseased cells with new, healthy ones. New cells are often transplanted, either intact or modified, from other areas of the patient's body or from a donor or embryonic stem cell, but may also be derived from non-human sources like animals. This treatment may be used for a number of conditions, including Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease, certain types of cancer and heart disease, as well as injuries and burns. Sometimes cell therapy is also used cosmetically to help fight sagging or wrinkled skin and fine, brittle hair.

Different types of cells.
Different types of cells.

Although most people think of cell therapy as a new and mildly controversial procedure, certain forms of it, like blood transfusions, have been practiced for many years. Many believe that this particular type of cell therapy works in a similar manner as organ transplantation; however, unlike full organ transplants, cells may be implanted into organs that are difficult or impossible to transplant, move through the healing process at a quicker rate, and may be less likely to become damaged or rejected by the body during or after treatment. When fresh cells are implanted into diseased portions of the body, the cells are thought to help revitalize and possibly regenerate the ailing tissue, which may help the tissue to heal more quickly and efficiently.

Blood transfusions are a form of cell therapy.
Blood transfusions are a form of cell therapy.

Several different types of cells may be used for cell therapy, including those taken from blood and bone marrow, adult and embryonic stem cells, and xenogenic cells. Umbilical cord blood cells are frequently used to treat disorders like dyskeratosis congenita and thymic dysplasia, and cancers such as Hodgkin's lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. They may also be used to treat metabolic conditions like Batten disease and Hunter syndrome.

Stem cells are becoming increasingly popular, as they are thought to quickly self-renew. When these cells regenerate, they are said to help create new, healthy tissue that can replace or repair diseased tissue. These cells are thought to have the potential of curing just about any condition, and they are often used to help cancer patients, those with brain, heart, or spinal cord injuries, and people suffering from age-related ailments. Xenotransplantation is a form of therapy that transplants cells from one species to another; in this case, animals to humans. Many feel that this type of therapy could potentially replace traditional organ transplantation.

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