So many modern medical treatments sound almost like science fiction to the average consumer. If you have questions like, “What is gene therapy, particularly stem cell research?” you’re not alone. Gene and stem cell therapy are promising treatments for genetic disorders, and they also hold great potential in the field of regenerative medicine. But what do all of these terms mean? And how do doctors use gene and stem cell therapy: alone or in combination?
Gene therapy works by transferring genetic material into a patient’s cells for therapeutic purposes. If the patient has a genetic disease, gene therapies can supply a missing protein and improve the patient’s clinical status or, in a best case scenario, cure the genetic defects. This same strategy can change the pattern of gene expression in host cells, thereby preventing disease. The process is extremely challenging, though, because there are many biological obstacles to overcome. Using non-viral vectors for this transfer is the safest option, because viral vectors can produce virulent viruses. However, non-viral vectors are less efficient. Viral vectors are extremely effective, because they have naturally evolved for the sole purpose of invading a host cell and creating more viral particles. For viruses to be effective in carrying therapeutic genes, the disease causing genes must be eradicated from the viral genome. They are then replaced by therapeutic genes, after which the virus will be ready to carry that packaged gene into the targeted cells.
RNA therapies use RNA to address the issue of damaged messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA is responsible for carrying instructions from DNA in order to synthesize proteins. If a gene is damaged, the mRNA it creates will also be damaged, and will therefore carry the wrong information and create damaged proteins, causing disease. RNA therapy helps solve this issue, using different strategies. One approach is to use silencing RNA to bind with the damaged mRNA and keep it from being used to synthesize proteins. Another is the delivery of corrected mRNA into cells to provide the correct instructions for creating proteins. Using these different strategies, mRNA therapy can treat or prevent disease.
Stem cells are non-specialized cells that are self-renewable and have the capacity to change into different types of cells. How effectively they can do this, and into what kinds of cells, depends on the type of stem cell being discussed. Embryonic stem cells (ES), produced in a 5-day-old blastocyst, are totipotent. This means they can typically differentiate into all types of cells and tissues. This makes them extremely useful in cell therapy, because they can deliver new cells of whatever type is needed to treat the illness or injury. The use of ES is extremely controversial and raises many ethical concerns, however. The next most useful stem cell is harvested from umbilical cords. Umbilical stem cells are multipotent and can generate different types of cells, though not as many as ES. The older a stem cell is, the less potential it has for differentiation. However, it is still possible to harvest stem cells from a patient’s own body for use in cell therapy, and new stem cell technology is continually evolving, bringing more hope to this field of medicine.
While each of these treatments hold great promise on their own, they’re even more effective when used together. This can be done sequentially, with gene therapy following cell transplantation or, more commonly, the transplantable stem cells can be genetically programmed before transplantation. Genetically modifying stem cells delivers the benefits of both types of therapy, providing therapeutic material and regenerative tissue at the same time.
If you’d like to know more about gene and stem cell therapy, contact Oregon Medical Centers. Founded in 1989 as First Choice Chiropractic, Oregon Medical Centers was established in 2018 after adding Medical Providers and becoming an integrated medical facility. Specialists in treating car accident and workplace injuries, we also treat conditions like sciatica, pinched nerves, TMJ, neck and back pain, headaches, joint pain, and much more. We offer chiropractic care, physical therapy, massage, and regenerative medicine, and we specialize in diagnosing and treating chronic pain. Our dedicated medical team provides high-level care and compassion for patients in a collaborative environment where patients get the best possible treatment. What’s more, our insurance department assists in the insurance process, to alleviate stress for patients and allow them to focus on getting better. For more information about the services we offer or to schedule an appointment, call (503) 390-1552 in Salem, (503) 642-2845 in Aloha, or contact us through our website.