Stem Cell Technologies (Sources, Storage & Processing) Malaysia

Stem cells have the ability to differentiate into almost any other cell in the body.

Stem cells are cells that are capable of regenerating and differentiation. Stem cells have the ability to differentiate into almost any other cell in the body. They were first discovered in the hematopoietic (blood) system however are thought to be found in many other tissues in the body. Stem cells have provided a medical marvel for those suffering from tissue diseases and cancers. The role of stem cells in medicine today is to be used as a therapy or targets of certain drugs as well as a means of regeneration of differentiated tissues for those with diseases. This article will focus on the source, storage and processing of stem cells.


The Sources of Stem Cells

Stem cells can be sourced from human embryos or tissues in the adult. There are two types of adult stem cells that are known today. This being haemopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). HSCs are derived from cord blood and peripheral blood. MSCs are derived from Wharton’s jelly, fatty tissue or tooth pulp. Both can be derived from bone marrow. What differentiates the two is haemopoietic stem cells are able to differentiate to all blood cells while mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent and can be differentiated into a variety of cells of most organs such as muscles, blood cells, neurons, intestinal cells, pancreatic cells and liver cells. Embryonic stem cells are sourced from the pre implanted blastocyst which occurs a week after fertilization. Due to ethical concerns, these stem cells are not routinely used and most source stem cells from adults. Cord blood can be preserved after a baby is born, for it is rich in stem cells, though the cost and storage can be large. Adult stem cells are thought to be present in most tissues and throughout the life of an adult. They are the source of tissue maintenance and injury repair. Adult stem cells can be found in the bone marrow, blood, fatty tissues and certain organs.


How Stem Cells Are Harvested, Stored & Processed?

How stem cells are harvested differs on the source, but since bone marrow is the most common, let’s look at how it is done.  The donor is treated with blood producing medications for weeks which can be a bit painful. Bone marrow is then aspirated via a syringe from the back of the iliac crest on the hip (sacrum) under anaesthesia. Multiple aspirations are performed until up to 15 ml per kg of the body weight is achieved. Mild back pain or sacrum pain may follow post harvesting. Stem cells from peripheral blood is collected by first inducing growth factors to increase the circulation of hematopoietic stem cells. This is then harvested from the blood for use. Risks for those receiving growth factors can be mild from pain to a rare risk of splenomegaly which is an increased spleen which can lead to rupture. High number of stem cells are found in the umbilical cord blood and collected during delivery. All these harvested stem cells are processed, valuated for antigens, cancer or dangerous markers and then cryopreserved (frozen) in either cord blood banks or stem cell banks.


How the cells are transplanted into a patient?

How the cells are transplanted into a patient is through carefully curates steps to ensure a proper transfer. Patients are matched with a donor or if they had preserved their own stem cells, use their own. The blood and patient is checked for hormones, blood parameters, cancer markers and antigens that are not existent or removed to avoid rejection. The patient is treated with immune suppressing medications to avoid rejection prior to receiving the stem cells. The stem cells are given via long process of intravenous blood transfer through the arm, thigh or areas of high vascularity. The procedure is simple and given via bedside over a period of hours each time. Immune cells are given in the blood, infused and cultured. On day 45, stem cells are then infused to the blood of the patient. After 180 days the patient is followed up in addition to his constant monitoring to ensure it is fully accepted. The process shouldn’t be painful but feelings of fatigue and weakness may ensue. Minor toxicities from the frozen blood stem cells may occur such as fever, cough, headache or flushing. These symptoms should disappear following the completion of infusion.  The patient if successful should be able to rest and carry out daily activities of living in the following months and should be monitored for progress in the hospital post procedure and through regular check-ups.

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