Stem cell research contributes to a fundamental understanding of how organisms develop and grow, and how tissues are maintained throughout adult life. This is knowledge that is required to work out what goes wrong during disease and injury and ultimately how these conditions might be treated. The development of a range of human tissue-specific and embryonic stem cell lines will provide researchers with the tools to model disease, test drugs and develop increasingly effective therapies.
Replacing diseased cells with healthy cells, a process called cell therapy, is a promising use of stem cells in the treatment of disease; this is similar to organ transplantation only the treatment consists of transplanting cells instead of organs. Currently, researchers are investigating the use of adult, fetal and embryonic stem cells as a resource for various, specialized cell types, such as nerve cells, muscle cells, blood cells and skin cells that can be used to treat various diseases.
In theory, any condition in which there is tissue degeneration can be a potential candidate for stem cell therapies, including Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophies and liver diseases.
In addition, retinal regeneration with stem cells isolated from the eyes can lead to a possible cure for damaged or diseased eyes and may one day help reverse blindness. Bone marrow transplantation (transfers blood stem cells) is a well-established treatment for blood cancers and other blood disorders.