One of the biggest public health problems at the moment is the increase of the number of patients suffering from kidney disease. It is a sad reality that even preventive treatments and campaigns to reduce the rates each year are not enough to keep numbers in a certain balance. For this reason, dialysis treatments are also on the rise, considering that other options, such as kidney transplantation, are usually complicated.
Likewise, medical science is always in search of alternative therapies, taking into account that dialysis, although it is the best option so far, also represents many problems for patients, starting with the fact that dialysis is essentially a control treatment, not a cure. One of the options that are currently being developed is stem cell therapy. The great genetic discoveries regarding stem cells could be one of the main areas of development in the future of nephrology.
One of the great hopes in this field is cell regeneration. The possibilities offered by this therapy are countless because the renal function is not being carried out by a machine, as in the case of hemodialysis, nor is necessary to transplant an organ from a human being to another, but rather the objective is to regenerate the damaged organ, so that it recovers its functions completely, following a natural process. The idea with this therapy, in a nutshell, is to perform a transplant of renal precursor cells, so that, they become perfectly functional in the kidney tissue, so that a satisfactory recovery is achieved.
This treatment has not been reached yet. It is still in the experimentation stage, despite the fact that great advances have been made in this subject. In ideal conditions, renal precursor cells could be transplanted directly into the renal parenchyma, and this means a great challenge in medical terms. Some think that the precision that must be obtained for this procedure could only be really achieved through the use of robots, which is a strong trend in the research of biomedical engineering right now. Kidneys are very complex organs, which, in addition to the complications they may have – which are innumerable, by the way – have quite solid tissues that make it hard to transplant cells. The kidney is composed of groups of cells called nephrons. The nephrons are organized in clusters, and each of them fulfills a function of filtering the blood.
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Well, what happens when a patient suffers from kidney disease, is that the speed with which these cells die is much faster than the ability of the kidney to recover them. In this way, while the time progresses, kidneys lose the ability to perform their functions, and because they cannot regenerate, the body no longer finds a way to filter the blood and eliminate excess fluid. It is at this point that cell regeneration therapy comes into play. Because hemodialysis and other medical treatments cannot do much to prevent the death of the nephrons, it is necessary to find a way in which the kidney of the same patient recovers effectively.
Another major challenge with this therapy is that it is not easy to get enough precursor cells for a single treatment. Not only because stem cell treatments have huge policy obstacles in several countries, but it is expensive to isolate these cells for keeping them alive in the lab.
The experiments behind the development of this therapy have been carried out, first of all, in mice. What the researchers have done is to transplant kidney precursor cells at specific points in the kidney tissue. The kidneys of rats are very similar to ours, especially when they suffer from critical kidney damage. What has been seen is that, although the transplanted cells are not fully integrated into the tissues of the kidney, the organs manage to recover the replacement rate of useless nephron cells with new ones somehow. This prevents the occurrence of necrosis, and, therefore, a series of harmful consequences for the organism.
In this regard, one of the fundamental points to develop these therapies is to identify exactly which stem cells are useful for the tissue of the kidneys to regenerate. That is why it is key to know the repair processes that the body carries out naturally, o that researchers can just boost them up.
One of the observations which has drawn the attention of the medical community is that the kidneys of mammals, compared with those of other animals, have a lower regeneration capacity. However, it has been noted that both in mice and in humans, the organism has a small stock of stem cells in case the kidney is not able to balance the loss of nephron cells. To this extent, medical science has focused on enhancing this process in the body. For many people, stem cell treatments are controversial. However, what science has shown in recent years is that it is a natural process that does not interfere with the way in which it works and balances in our body.
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