STEM CELL THERAPY FOR ALCOHOL ADDICTION
- July 23, 2018
Stem cells are cells that have the capability of being transformed into other types of cells. There are two main types – embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, as the name implies, come from embryos, specifically embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro and then donated. These cells can become any type of cell found in the body, such as such as muscle cells, blood cells, and brain cells. This process is called differentiation. Adult stem cells are cells that haven’t yet developed into any specific type, and the theory is that they can only develop into cell types related to the tissue they originally came from.
Stem cells have been used for years to study cancer, birth defects, and other medical conditions that are due to abnormal cell differentiation. More recently, scientists have begun looking at ways stem cells can help with alcohol addiction. For a long time, it was impossible for researchers to study brain cells to see how they were affected by drugs and alcohol, or to look for genetic causes for addiction predisposition. To obtain living tissue, they would have had to cut into the skull. With stem cells, however, non-invasive tests are now possible. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, genetics accounts for about half of a person’s vulnerability for addiction, so finding and understanding these addiction-causing cells could be a huge breakthrough for both treatment and prevention.
In 2017, researchers from the University of Chile discovered that one dose of human mesenchymal stem cells (or MSCs, which can make cells belonging to skeletal tissues, such as cartilage, bone, and fat) injected into rats significantly reduced the amount of alcohol they would self-administer. These rats started off drinking what would be the equivalent of a bottle of vodka every day in a human, but within 48 hours of treatment, they reduced their alcohol intake by up to 90 percent. The effects of a single dose lasted up to five weeks. The MSCs reduced brain inflammation and oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between the production of molecules called free radicals and the antioxidants that detoxify them. Both issues are associated with a risk of relapse.
The procedure for stem cell addiction therapy involves harvesting cells from your body and transplanting them. One method is to take the cells from bone marrow by removing it from the pelvic bone with a needle. The stem cells are then separated out in a lab. This process involves anesthetic and a hospital stay, which is part of the reason why stem cells are now generally taken from blood. The blood is taken from an arm and passed through a centrifuge, where the stem cells are separated.
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