The respected journal Molecular Psychiatry which publishes laboratory research related to mental illnesses; has raised hopes of a ‘permanent’ treatment for Schizophrenia. One of the papers in its latest issue presents successful stem cell transplant into rat hippocampal brains as reflecting the possibility that in future stem cells may be used to similarly treat one of the most difficult to treat mental illnesses.
While the lay press has been quick to highlight the potential impact of the use of stem cells in the treatment of Schizophrenia, we shouldn’t start jumping with anticipation of a future free of the eight leading cause of morbidity in the world. Stem cells have been a favorite with lab researchers as it is assumed that they will ‘take the form of the milieu’ they are injected into. However, lab experiments have rarely been translated into successful treatment of human disorders primarily because the human brain and rat brains are extremely different. A miniscule part of human brain contains more neurons than half the rat brain and the structural differentiation within our brains is exponentially more complex than in rats. That is essentially why we can plan, anticipate and execute complex actions whereas rats (except Jerry of Tom and Jerry!) can’t.
Stem cell transplants have been offered by unscrupulous businesses disguised as NGOs or specialist centers of health for treatment of Autism. The caveat is that it has never been approved anywhere in the world for curing or improving Autism, yet parents of children suffering from developmental disorders are often led to believe that use of stem cells is cutting edge and the latest in treatment. Far from it; stem cell injections are merely costly, unethical experiments on your family member to which you are agreeing upon at your own risk.
I fear that the same may happen with mental illnesses. This lab research may be used to mislead frustrated and disillusioned families of persons suffering from Schizophrenia, that stem cells will treat the illness. Kindly be cautious of such claims.