Finding life’s greatest secrets in the most unusual places
Many refer to it as ‘nature’s curse on women’. It’s commonly thought of as unclean. In some cultures, women are not even allowed to cook during those days of month. But, path-breaking new research could change the way people view the menstrual cycle. And it’s here in India, for the first time ever. The blood that uselessly leaks away from a woman’s body every month until she hits menopause is a good source of stem cells, which are still at an early stage of development and retain the potential to turn into many different types of cell.
Stem cell research classifies them as a super “repair kit” for the body because they can be used to grow new fat, cartilage, bone, skin, heart and brain cells. Japan and American researchers say menstrual blood could actually be banked and used to save lives. It is supposed to contain adult stem cells that can develop into any of nine different types of cells, including heart, lung, nerve and muscle.
Ajit Kumar is chief scientific officer of LifeCell International, India’s biggest stem cell banking facility and the first in the country to launch a menstrual stem cell banking facility. He says, “The menstrual stem cell comes from the uterine lining (endometrium) that is shed as part of a woman’s menstrual period.”
Research is ongoing but if established as a success, it would be a huge advance for stem cell research. Stem cell therapy has become controversial in some parts of the world beca-use scientists believe the most useful ones come from embryos. Adult stem cells are rare in mature tissue. But if they are sourced from hitherto-useless, “unclean” menstrual blood, it would redefine the woman’s role as life-giver.
The master stem cell is the zygote and all of human life really begins here. A zygote is created when an egg is fertilised. Thereafter, this master stem cell multiplies as the embryo develops into millions of cells, including a large number of other stem cells. Less specialised stem cells become ever more so with the process continuing throughout pregnancy to create different cells – skin, muscle, nerve or bone. Throughout the life, the body continues to produce stem cells. Kumar says menstrual stem cells are similar to those from bone marrow and embryos, with the added bonus of even faster replication and higher compatibility.
It is an amazing bit of news for stem cell therapy, which is gaining ground across the world as a wonder cure for Parkinson’s, Alz-heimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord damage and much more. Till now, umbilical cord stem cells have been used in 8,000 transplant operations worldwide, says Cryo-Cell a leading global stem cell banking company.
During lab tests, scientists created different types of cells from menstrual stem cells or endometrial regenerative cells (ERCs) as they are known. Within five days, fledgling heart cells had been generated. Kumar says this showed ERCs may be a source of patient-specific stem cells.
It is not hard to bank menstrual blood. The procedure is almost the same as giving a urine sample. Kumar says it may be easier to harvest stem cells from menstrual blood than bone marrow or skin because it is a painless and non-invasive procedure. “Unlike cord blood stem cells, where the cells are frozen directly after extraction, here the blood is expanded before being stored,” he explains.
Preliminary research suggests that menst-rual stem cells could be used to cure a woman’s genetic family, such as parents, sibling or child.
Via The Times