The development of cancer stem cell technologies: A triumph or ethical debate?

cancer-stem-cells

Whether you refer to it as The Big C, a malignant neoplasm, or its simpler name; cancer, we all know what it is and have all heard and seen the detrimental effect it has on those fighting and living with it every day. With a devastating mortality rate and a plethora of heart-breaking films, podcasts, and charities to remind us why research is so fundamental, cancer is one disease we can’t seem to sweep under the rug. According to Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) UK, one in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime which, as a harrowing statistic in itself, means that funding cancer research and the development of potential cures is vital.

What are cancer stem cells?

The thing about cancer stem cells is that they only need a little to make a big problem. Like regular stem cells, CSCs have a self-renewal ability. Generating tumors from only a small number of cells means they are fueling the growth of cancer in the body. Although they generally only represent one to three percent of all cells in a tumor, it is their regenerative quality that makes them, for lack of a better word, a nightmare. These cells are found at the sight of cancer and can hinder conventional therapies by protecting cancer cells from being destroyed by treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The cancer stem cells, once regenerated, multiply and metastasize leading to a cancer invasion.

As a relatively modern discovery, the first evidence of cancer stem cells, and how they might be affecting current therapies, was identified by John Dick in acute myeloid leukemia in the late 1990s. Since being exposed as the antagonist in the quest to cure cancer, stem cell research has been at the forefront of cancer research focus for more than two decades.

With the defiance of cancer stem cells against the existing technologies we have in fighting the disease, scientists have adapted their efforts against CSCs and have instead begun to create innovative ways to beat them at their own game.

Ethical debates and market restraints

Stem cell therapy is becoming increasingly commercialized - and with this commercialization, researcher methods are coming under scrutiny. Namely, researchers are aiming to use cancer stem cells as a therapeutic tool to cure cancer, which poses ethical and cost-related issues that could become a problem for the market.

As such, the major restraints of the market stem, quite literally, from the ethical issues that derive from stem cell collection.

The restraints in the market stem, quite literally, from the ethical issues that derive from stem cell collection. There are three main sources of stem cells, they are:

  • Embryonic stem cells - These stem cells are found in embryos that are 3 – 5 days old. They can divide into more stem cells or become any type of cell in the body. The versatility allows embryonic stem cells to be used to restore diseased tissue and organs.
  • Adult stem cells - In adults, a small number of stem cells can be found in bone marrow or fat. However, compared to embryonic stem cells these have a more limited regeneration ability. With emerging evidence, adult stem cells are believed to create several types of cells.
  • Perinatal stem cells - These stem cells have been discovered in amniotic fluid as well as umbilical cord blood. These stem cells can change into specialized cells.

It is also worth noting that scientists have successfully taken adult stem cells and altered them to have properties of embryonic stem cells. Through this process, they can use the re-programmed cells instead of embryonic cells and prevent the immune system rejection of the new cells. All this to say however, scientists do not have a clear consensus on what adverse effects they might have on humans.

The way stem cells are collected to then be used in stem cell therapies has raised ethical issues which may restrain the market. The ethical concerns in using embryonic stem cells include:

  • Destruction of the embryo
  • The increasing rate of illegal abortions
  • Lack of sufficient legal rules
  • Commercial exploitation

To overcome this, the ethical legal strategies in using embryonic stem cells are:

  • Obtaining stem cells from donated frozen eggs can be discarded through the IVF treatment process
  • Compliance with national ethical guidelines in stem cell research

The ethical concerns in using adult stem cells are:

  • Breach of human dignity
  • Genetic manipulation
  • Human reproduction or cloning

Strategies to overcome the ethical issues include:

  • Determining ownership of stem cells

Is it just too expensive?

Due to CSC therapy being such a modern development, the technologies used are advanced and therefore costly. According to WHO, people with cancer experience financial hardship that worsens over time as cancer care becomes more expensive. According to the American Health & Drug Benefits (2017), stem cell transplantation in the US has risen steadily, with 340,000 hematopoietic stem cell transplantations (HSCT). The hospital costs associated with HSCT have also grown by 85%. Those patients on a low income cannot afford the CSC therapies and therefore would miss out on crucial treatment which inevitably will be a factor restraining the market.

Avenues of growth

With an expected compound annual growth rate of 16.1% through the period 2021-2026, the cancer stem cells market is projected to reach $4.4 billion. The main driving force for the market is the efforts in increasing funding for cancer research. Everyone should be able to recall a charity event that raises funds for cancer research or perhaps you already donate yourself. Cancer research will drive the cancer stem cell market in the hopes of treating and curing patients of cancer.

An exciting opportunity for the cancer stem cell market comes from the positive result of CSCs in animal models in the development of novel drugs that could treat various types of cancer. This will help to open new avenues for growth in the cancer stem cells market.

Cancer Stem Cells: Technologies and Global Markets

Whilst the market may seem apprehensive, the developments and opportunities for growth will boost the market substantially through the forecast period.

To read more into the cancer stem cell market as well as the trends, opportunities and gaps our BCC analysts have found click here.

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Written by Katie Biddle on Aug 25, 2022 10:00:00 AM

Topics: Life Sciences, Biotechnology

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