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Can stem cell treatment help my son?

Q: I have a 16 years old son. He has been getting seizures for more than 13 years. This has led to brain damage. Presently, he is on medication and the seizures are controlled. He is attending a special school. The attending doctors say that the child may have to take medicine throughout his life. Is it possible that in the near future with the help of stem cells, he is fully cured of this disease and the damaged part of the brain is repaired with the help of stem-cells?

A:I am sorry to learn of your son's ailment and can well imagine the distress it is causing you. The seizure disorder in your son is likely related to the cause of the brain damage. There are several options for the long-term treatment of including drugs, ketogenic diet, and surgery in recalcitrant cases (hemispherectomy, focal resections, callosotomy & vagal nerve stimulation). These options are not mutually exclusive and can be used concurrently in the same individual and you could discuss this with your doctor. In many cases discontinuing medications is possible after a seizure-free period ranging from 2 years without seizures to after 4-5 years without seizures in persons with brain damage. Stem cells (or cells quite similar to them) have been identified in many different tissues of the body like neural, pancreatic, epidermal, mesenchymal, hepatic, bone, muscle, and endothelial tissues. Stem cell work is still quite experimental but is very promising as many beneficial therapies are thought to exist with much scientific value being ascribed to cord blood and its cells. Various centres in the world have been reporting their use in Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, endocrine disorders, etc. but this is still not being done routinely or being offered as a therapeutic modality. Human cord blood contains a large number of haematopoietic progenitor cells that can be used as a source of stem cells for treatment of blood disorders and cancers. Clinical efficacy is currently limited to bone marrow transplant, grafting new skin cells to treat burns, regenerating cornea in visually impaired, etc. Its potential use includes cures for cancer and treatment of neurologic, cardiac, renal, and endocrine (diabetes) diseases. There are still many difficulties in the routine use of stem cells and they include problem in identifying stem cells in tissue cultures, which contain numerous types of cells; to coax the cell to develop into a desired cell; integrating the new cells into the patient’s own tissue, both structurally and functionally; preventing tissue rejection and the possible risk of cancer. It is still not known what the effect of storing these cells for several decades would be as there have been no long term studies. Even though the potential is great, it will be a while before stem cell therapy can become a part of routine treatment.

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