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Stem cells have the potential to serve as one of the most powerful tools in human healing. Their unique capabilities of tissue regeneration could be revolutionary for devastating conditions such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, cardiovascular disease, blindness, and burn injury. With proper research and application, stem cells could hold the key to repair and regrowth of entire organs and their scars.

The field of stem cell research is only a few decades old and its therapeutic potential has yet to be fully recognized. It’s relatively new nature coupled with historical controversy over its ability to progress has resulted in incremental but insufficient gains in understanding and manipulation of their use for medicine. Since skin is the most easily accessible organ system, dermatology could prove invaluable in this endeavor. As such, stem cells are currently being preclinically studied in animal models for their potential role in wound healing and scar prevention.

The crux of the historical stem cell battle has shifted away from the legality and ethics of funding embryonic stem cell research., A 2013 federal court ruling rendered funding permissible due to the monumental leaps in stem cell technology. The battle now centers around regulation and commercialization of these innovations as their role expands in modern medicine. While the ethical concerns are largely quelled, the stakes remain high with such a powerful tool. Too little federal regulation could result in patient harm, potentially destroying future stem cell development at a critical juncture in the infancy of this evolving field. Conversely, too much regulation could stifle the ability to advance the field of regenerative medicine and, consequentially, its potential to save lives.


Experimental stem cell transfer dates back to the 1860s, when descriptions of embryonic “stem cells” and “mesenchymal precursor cells” were matched with studies demonstrating de novo bone formation following heterotopic transfer of marrow to other tissues.1–3 However, it was not until the first successful bone marrow transplantation 100 years later that the resounding clinical implications for stem cells became apparent.4 An explosion of research marked the latter half of the twentieth century, as stem cells were isolated from an array of embryonic, extraembryonic, and adult tissues. While ethical and legal concerns loomed over this early work, adult-derived stem cells and the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells soon provided researchers with a new source of seemingly limitless tissue potential.5

Within the field of dermatology, stem cell isolates from embryonic tissue, bone marrow mesenchyme, adipose, umbilical cord blood, and epidermis have demonstrated positive effects in tissue regeneration. In particular, stem cells have shown benefits at nearly all stages of wound healing, including accentuated neovascularization, orderly connective tissue regeneration, and epithelialization. Clinical trials continue to illustrate this benefit in wounds of numerous etiologies, including those secondary to chronic disease (diabetes mellitus, venous ...

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