Stem Cell Therapy South Africa

12 November 2019 Written by
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When it comes to stem cell therapy South Africa, has to be the leading destination in Africa. Stem cell therapy in South Africa is known as Regenerative medicine,

which is aimed at replacing damaged or diseased cells in hopes of restoring or improving their normal physiological function. “Regenerative Medicine” is often used to describe medical treatments and research that utilize stem cells to restore these functions.

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Stem cells are the precursor cells in stem cell therapy South Africa. Found throughout our bodies from which mature or differentiated cells are derived. They are characterized by the abilty to renew themselves or develop into more specialized cells and therefore have the potential to replace cells or tissues that are damaged or destroyed due to disease processes/injuries.

Stem cells Healing

Stem cell therapy therefore leads to tissue regeneration much like an organ transplant but is much less invasive and only cells are used as therapy. Various conditions have been treated with Stem Cell therapy and current research shows promising future applications. Examples of injuries or diseases treated with stem cell regenerative therapy, include:

  • Skin regeneration
  • Neurological diseases (Motor Neuron Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Spinal Cord Injuries)
  • Orthopedic diseases (Osteo-arthritis, cartilage & bone repair)
  • Sports injuries (cartilage & ligament repair)
  • Diseases of the Respiratory system (COPD’s such as emphysema)
  • Cardiovascular diseases (heart muscle regeneration)
  • Circulatory diseases (Critical Limb Ischemia)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Macular degeneration
  • Hair loss
  • & many other areas
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What exactly are stem cells?

Stem cells are the body’s building blocks – the reserve cells that the body is made up of. These cells are able to produce multiple different cells, each performing a specific function. In 2004 South Africa became the first African nation to open a stem cell bank. Stem cell therapy is available at various treatment centres in South Africa. One of the most prominent is the South African Stem Cell Institute in the Free State. Here, various treatments, such as regenerative skin treatments and prolotherapy (regeneration of the joints), are offered.

Stem cells hold a lot of potential and with the current stem cell therapy research, we are learning more about the capabilities of these unique cells. Stem cell therapy is a non-invasive procedure, which means there is no surgery involved and there will be very little to no pain. Stem cell therapy has helped many patients recover from ailments and injuries faster. The Albert Alberts Haemopoitic Stem Cell Transplant Unit at the Netcare Pretoria East Hospital is the largest centre of its kind in Africa and completes 80 transplants a year, more than any other facility on the continent.

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Stem cell Research

The Stem Cell Research and Therapy Unit, based at the University of Pretoria, researches ways of lowering the South African infection rate of both communicable diseases (infectious diseases like Tuberculosis / TB) and non-communicable diseases (non-infectious diseases like cancer). Their Key focus areas are:

  • Creating an HIV-resistant immune system using hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs)
  • Identifying host targets to decrease CCR5 (one of the two HIV co-receptors)
  • Starting an HIV gene therapy platform - and gene therapy projects for other diseases (at a later stage) - using immunodeficient and ‘humanised mice’ (mice with a human immune system)
  • Investigating types of HSCs and their vulnerability to HIV infection
  • Assessing the effectiveness of specific HSCs in gene therapy
  • Improving transduction (introducing foreign cells to the human body) methods
  • Identifying new pre-and post-transplantation selection techniques
  • Studying the human leukocyte antigen (a protein found on most cells which is used to determine a donor match) of the southern African population
  • Providing cell therapy products for clinical trials on mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)
  • Locating and assessing types of MSCs
  • Identifying cells at their various stages
  • Working with experts at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s Reproductive Biology Laboratory on gene therapy use for reproductive problems
  • Addressing ethical, legal and social matters relating to stem cell research and use.
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Stem cell tourism in South Africa.

The publicity around stem cell therapy has given many persons who have sustained a devastating injury such as spinal cord injury (SCI) the hope of achieving partial or full recovery from their injuries. The enormous potential benefits that cell-based therapy has to offer to human health – and South African patients are no exception – are undisputed. But South Africa is one of several countries that has seen a sharp increase in the number of patients receiving unproven stem cell-based treatments. Many of these treatments are still experimental, which means there is no evidence that they are safe. As a result, patient safety is compromised. Patients who undergo bogus treatments face several risks. These include:

  • not giving informed consent for the stem cell samples, which could then be used unethically without their knowledge
  • no post-treatment care or follow-up monitoring to deal with adverse events
  • absence of patient registries
  • associated medical risks such as tumour growth, immunological reactions or unknown long-term health consequences.

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South Africa’s inability to enforce its laws that govern stem cell treatments has resulted in a proliferation of bogus and unproven stem cell treatments being offered to many vulnerable citizens. There is an urgent need to establish a national oversight and regulatory body to provide guidance on the legal regulation of stem cell research and cell-based therapy. Even wealthy countries seem to exist in a stem cell regulatory vacuum. What this means is that in developing countries like South Africa it is basically a free-for-all.

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