Vitiligo and Iranian Stem Cell Research
Vitiligo (vi-ti-LIE-go) is a skin disease that causes loss of melanin in the skin leading to patchy areas of whiteness that can affect any part of the body (think: Michael Jackson). Given the psychological aspects of this disease, I was intrigued to find this video about stem cell research in Iran that cured a man of vitiligo.
This loss of pigmentation is thought to be an autoimmune process that affects males and females alike, as well as all races. Current treatment, which has not always been successful, falls into 4 categories:
- topical creams such as steroids
- oral medication
- combination ultraviolet therapy with medications and
- surgery for skin grafting.
Treatment depends on the size of the affected area, how quickly it is spreading, as well as which area of the body is affected.
The video clip I watched (which you can watch in the Video section at the bottom left of this page) does not explain the type of stem cell treatment used – rather the purpose is to show the world that Iran has been making inroads into this area. Because the patient’s own stem cells were used and not embryonic stem cells, this is another example of how adult stem cells are made to act like embryonic stem cells that can grow into any kind of tissue.
Not only does this sidestep the ethical and moral questions raised by embryonic stem cell research, it opens the door to the possibility of creating new tissue and organs to replace our own damaged ones without fear that the new tissue will be rejected by our immune systems, as is the case in transplant surgery. This means that treatment for previously believed incurable disease such as Parkinsons, multiple sclerosis and even spinal cord injuries are possible.
I am curious to know to what extent the ban on embryonic stem cell research affected the growth in adult stem cell research – I would like to hear from any readers about this. For those interested in knowing more, there’s a great article from the BBC that explains how adult stem cells are made to act like embryonic cells.