Are there any proven stem cell treatments? | Stem Cells Australia | Are there any proven stem cell treatments? | Stem Cells Australia

Are there any proven stem cell treatments?

In Australia the only recognised and approved stem cell treatments are blood stem cell transplants for the treatment of certain blood cancers and autoimmune diseases, and skin and corneal grafting. Read more about these proven treatments below.

We also provide some context about the experimental nature of other treatments you may have come across in your research.

sca cell images Leukaemia

How are Haematopoietic Stem Cells collected and used?

Blood stem cell transplants from bone marrow or cord blood have been used successfully around the world for many years to treat patients with a variety of life-threatening disorders, both inherited, or acquired later in life including different types of leukaemia, lymphoma, anaemia, thalassemia and certain immunodeficiencies and autoimmune disorders. These treatments are also known as ‘haematopoietic stem cell transplants’ (HSCs) or ‘bone marrow transplants.’

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HSCs are either collected from circulating blood once coaxed from the bone marrow using growth factors, from cord blood, or, less commonly, directly from the bone marrow itself. Transplantation of these HSCs can restore blood and immune system function in patients after their own bone marrow stem cells have been suppressed or destroyed because of underlying bone marrow disease, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a combination of these mechanisms.

Whether the stem cells are obtained from the patient themselves (autologous) or from a donor (allogeneic), will depend on the condition being treated. Following high-dose chemotherapy and radiotherapy, HSCs can ‘restore’ the function of the bone marrow. Allogeneic transplantation will result in a new donor immune system being established, restoring immune function and potentially mediating an immune effect on the underlying disease. The transplant usually occurs in an accredited bone marrow and stem cell transplantation clinic with care overseen by a haematologist, a medical specialist with expertise in blood stem cells and the diseases that affect that system.

What are Corneal and Skin Grafts?

Corneal and skin grafts are forms of surgical transplantation that have been around for decades. They work because of the stem cells that reside within the tissues of the cornea and skin. There is active research, including in Australia, into ways of increasing the success rate of both these forms of treatment.

So, why aren’t there more treatments?

Although we do already use stem cells in clinics and hospitals to treat patients, these applications are limited to blood stem cell or haematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation for diseases of the blood and immune system, or rely on stem cells within corneal and skin grafts. The use of stem cells for all other diseases and disorders remains experimental. They are yet to be fully tested to determine if they work or are even safe.

It is important to remember that until possible new treatments undergo rigorous testing in clinical trials, with appropriate regulatory oversight and independent analysis, they are not considered a proven or recommended form of medical treatment.

Under exceptional circumstances, doctors may decide to treat a patient with a ‘one-off’ unproven treatment outside the clinical trials framework. This is known as ‘medical innovation’ and its use should be reserved for rare instances where the patient has limited options.

Where else can I go to find out more?

Expanding horizons for stem cell transplants

Stem Cells Australia

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