Addiction has been proven to affect the brain in more ways than we know. The brain is one of the most vital organs in our bodies and it is responsible for all of the automatic processes in our bodies. Substance abuse and addiction have shown to have a great impact on the brain in various areas, but specifically the hippocampus. According to Raheleh Rafaiee1 and Naghmeh Ahmadiankia, “The addictive drugs impair neurogenesis and undermine the function of neural stem/progenitor cells in the hippocampus. This feature was claimed to be one of the underlying mechanisms of behavioral changes in patients with addiction”. With brain functioning suffering due to addiction and substance abuse, researchers have begun to search for a way to repair the impaired synapses in the brain by studying the use of stem cells for addiction recovery treatment.
One option that is being studied is stem cell therapy. The reasoning behind looking into stem cell therapy for the treatment of addiction or to help aid in addiction recovery is because stem cells are capable of renewing due to the process of mitosis. Mitosis is cell replication which is what all cells do to multiply, but stem cells are key in this process because they are able to develop into a variety of specialized cells. The key cells that researchers are focusing on being able to restore would be the brain, lung, and kidney cells.
What are stem cells and why are they important to addiction recovery research? They are the cells that all specialized cells come from. After the stem cells multiply, they can either become more stem cells or become specialized cells with differentiation. These newly specialized cells have a specific function. Stem cells are so special because no other cell in the human body can generate new cell types, most cells stay one type until the end of their life cycle. Stem cells are referred to as the body’s ‘raw materials’ and that is what makes them so valuable in addiction recovery treatment.
Where does this ‘raw material’ come from? Stem cells are still being researched, but research has proven several sources where stem cells are naturally occurring. There are four different types of stem cells based upon where they are located:
- Perinatal stem cells – stem cells located in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood. These have the ability to change into specialized cells.
- Embryonic stem cells – cells from embryos that are 3-5 days old. These stem cells are pluripotent stem cells, meaning they can divide and either make new stem cells or divide and become any type of cell in the body. Embryonic stem cell’s versatility is what makes them the perfect type to use in addiction recovery therapy.
- Adult stem cells – found in many adult tissues but only in small amounts. Limited ability to change the type of cell they are. New research is showing that adult stem cells could in fact be used to create other types of cells.
- Altered adult stem cells – using genetic reprogramming, scientists have changed adult stem cells into stem cells which have the properties of embryonic stem cells. This helps to prevent immune system rejection of the new stem cells.
Stem cell therapy which has been used primarily for regenerative medicine when the stem cells are used to treat an illness. This occurs whenever stem cell therapy is used to restore damaged tissue that is in need. With stem cell recovery treatment, it can either be used to treat the area of the body that is suffering from long term substance abuse. This has been seen in a study taken place with lab rats bred to drink alcohol. These rats who were genetically predisposed to drink alcohol were injected with mesenchymal stem cells. It was discovered that the rats reduced their alcohol intake by 90 percent. This is the most notable study done to see how stem cells can be used at a genetic level to treat addiction and aid in addiction recovery. Addictionaide states, “Oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain are the two main causes that trigger a relapse. With a single dose of stem cells injected intravenously, this stem cell therapy promotes long-lasting recovery from addiction”. Stem cell therapy employs a natural process of the human body, due to the fact that the stem cells are simply replicating what the body does normally to regenerate, which is by multiplying and replacing the damaged cells. The difference is that stem cells can regenerate more freely and efficiently than other types of tissue cells which normally don’t regenerate on their own.
Stem cells have shown promise in their ability to help with a multitude of addiction issues, specifically to repair damages done by substance abuse. As stated above, research has been done on alcohol addiction and the benefits of using stem cell therapy to genetically help the client recover. In the study mentioned above, the lab rats also had reduced neurological pain which is a factor in alcoholism. The study also showed that introducing stem cells can lessen the risk of relapse drinking and helps the user not fall back into the same pattern of which they are genetically predisposed. The changes in the lab rats all took place within 48 hours of the first injection, which is quite amazing. This is the first study done of this type, but the study showed promising results and will hopefully move onto human trials in the future. An issue with this study is that researchers were injecting the lab rats with mesenchymal stem cells directly into the brain, which is not a viable way for it to be injected into humans. In order for this method to be used in humans, scientists will need to come up with a way to successfully introduce the cells into the body for them to reach the brain. While this would be a great stride in addiction recovery; helping stop addiction if someone is genetically predisposed to it is one thing, but helping clients recover from addiction is another.
Stem cell treatments and regenerative therapies have already been approved for treatment, such as bone marrow cell transplants to treat leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Scientists in Japan have even begun clinical trials in which Parkinson’s patients have adult stem cells injected into their brain to see if normal functioning can be restored. Unfortunately, a lot of these treatments are far from being approved for clinical use, though the future looks very promising.
But, let it be known that if you are struggling with addiction, it is crucial that you take action as soon as possible. You can’t wait for a miracle treatment that may be a decade or more away from being accessible, when there are effective and convenient treatment options for you right outside your front door. While current addiction treatment programs aren’t a “quick fix” solution, they are effective and they have been very successful in helping patients achieve lifelong sobriety. It will take time and effort on your part, but you will learn things along the way and find lasting peace within yourself that no miracle treatment could ever provide.
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