Hormone Replacement Therapy is a relatively new practice, and it is still developing rapidly. In a recent study (published by the International Society for Stem Cell Researchers), researchers were able to develop pituitary tissue from adult stem cells. The pituitary gland, located in the brain, is what is primarily responsible for the production and management of growth hormone, as well as hormones such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (which is involved with stress response), follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone (involved in reproductive ability). People who have dysfunctional pituitaries can suffer from hormone deficiency, especially Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Hypopituitarism is the official name for the condition of having a dysfunctional pituitary gland.
This condition is most serious in pediatric cases, because children especially need growth hormone during their developmental years. Children with low HGH can end up much shorter than their peers. They can also suffer from poor bone health, skeletal problems, and mental disabilities, and could end up with sexual issues. However, growth hormone is extremely important for adults as well as kids, men and women alike. Adults with low HGH can experience sexual dysfunction, low libido, and pre-mature aging symptoms (such as wrinkled skin). Often, weight gain is correlated with low HGH, as well as sleeping problems (during deep REM sleep is when the body produces the most HGH).
Modern-Day Treatments for Human Growth Hormone Deficiency
There are treatments for people with Hypopituitarism. The most common is injectable Bio-Identical Human Growth Hormone. Bio-Identical means that, although it is produced in a lab, it functions in the body the same way as organic HGH. Various forms of Bio-Identical Growth Hormone include Saizen, Tev-Tropin (generally used for pediatric care), and Somatropin. Another example is Sermorelin Acetate, which, instead of simply supplementing the body's hormone levels, stimulates the pituitary gland, and so allows for a more natural, safe way of increasing hormone levels, with notably fewer side effects.
How This New Study Is a Game-Changer
In the lab rats, the pituitary tissue generated from stem cells worked in much the same way their natural pituitary tissue had functioned.
If a similar treatment could be safely developed for humans with hormone imbalance, it would eliminate the need to continually inject Bio-Identical HGH supplements. It would be a more permanent solution, instead of a temporary treatment. These injections can be incredibly expensive, and so aside from being a potentially superior way to address Hypopituitarism, this method could save patients a lot of money.
Why adult stem cells?
Many people, when they hear the phrase stem cell research, assume that it is something scandalous and unethical, because they do not really understand what stem cell research is, and what different forms of it exist. Stem cell research is widely accepted in the medical community as a productive method of study, and it has many times produced for scientists and medical professionals countless results. Another form of stem cell research is embryonic stem cell research, and this is where most of the misunderstanding lies.
In the case of embryonic stem cell research, fertilization occurs through in vitro fertilization (IVF), where several embryos are conceived at once. In order to harvest the stem cells of the embryos, it is necessary to terminate their lives. Although there are additional factors to consider in this issue, this is the primary objection to, and cause of ethical concern about, embryonic stem cell research.
This issue is technically different from that of abortion, although there are important commonalities. In the case of abortion, there can be infinite reasons that a woman and or her family would want to abort her child, and in the case of embryonic stem cell research there are a number of scientific purposes that the research could supposedly serve. However in both of these cases, the life of an unborn embryo is purposefully and predictably ended, and the ethicality of this action cannot be justified by the potential good of the end result. Rather, the action itself must be ethically justified apart from any potential outcomes.
Its also important to note that while embryonic stem cell research has produced some medical developments, they are far fewer results than adult stem cell research, and of much less significance. In the past, adult stem cell research has led to development in the treatment of corneal issues, liver problems, certain cancer treatments, arthritis, heart disease, and leukemia, among others. This new study shows one more potential use for adult stem cell research.
What are Stem Cells, and Where Do They Come From?
Stem cells are cells that have the potential and ability to develop into other specific types of cells. For instance, they could develop into blood cells, muscle cells, pituitary cells, hypothalamus cells, et cetera. The exciting thing about stem cells is that they do this by dividing into other cells, and so ultimately remain stem cells, without damaging or reducing their ability to develop more cells in the future.
Process of the Lab Rat Pituitary Experiment
First, the pituitary glands of the rats were removed surgically. Next, the researchers replaced the pituitary with new pituitary cells that were derived from stem cells. Also, the researchers had control over the specific composition of the stem-cell generated pituitaries, and found that they could specifically determine the production of various hormones in the rats. This means that, if a treatment for humans is ever developed, there could be ways to address the specific needs of each patient. After all, everyone's body is different, and their conditions, even though they may all be rooted in a dysfunctional pituitary, can result in different hormone imbalances. Also, some patients may suffer from multiple hormone deficiencies. This potential treatment could be a single solution that would address a number of hormone problems.
However exciting and enlightening this study may be, there is still a great deal of research, study and testing that needs to be done before we can even come close to a safe, permanent treatment for Hypopituitarism. However, this does not mean that there is nothing to be done for patients with hormone imbalance. Treatments such as injectable HGH, Sermorelin Acetate, and more have been shown to be very effective when used with a prescription under a capable doctors care. Because these treatments are only available for patients with a diagnosis of HGH deficiency, not everyone can have access to them. However, for anyone looking to improve their hormonal levels, there are steps that can be taken to boost HGH levels naturally. Exercise, better sleeping habits, proper diet and healthy eating all of these can help with the body's hormone production, and are generally recommended for an overall healthy lifestyle anyway.