Overview Of Stem Cell Treatments

The body is comprised of a multitude of tissues and organs that grow from a cluster of stem cells early in development. Stem cells have the ability to develop into any type of cell in the body early in life. In an embryo they begin as an un-programed cell before developing into specialized cells that form the bones, muscles, skin, and organs. At this point they are referred to as pluripotent stem cells. Stem cells differ from other cells in the body as they have the ability to renew themselves. Therefore, stem cells can repair and replace tissues within the human body.

With advancements in medicine, researchers have found that stems cells can be used to successfully treat injury and disease as they help to stimulate healing in the body.

Bone marrow transplants are the most common type of stem cell therapy and have been routinely used for the past 40 years to treat various blood disorders, as well as certain cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma.

Researchers are continually finding new ways to use stem cells to rebuild damaged tissues in the body, including the eyes, pancreas, and brain among others.

Research Into Stem Cell Treatments

Hematopoietic stem cell transplants from bone marrow, peripheral blood, and umbilical cord are approved by the FDA to treat various blood-based cancers (i.e. multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and leukemia) as well as other blood disorders (i.e. anemia, thalassemia, and severe combined immune deficiency). There are currently thousands of clinical trials investigating ways to improve hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, how to combine it with other therapies, and which stem cell sources produce optimal results.

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation reports that while the following conditions currently have no stem cell therapy that has FDA approval, there are many trials in the preliminary stages of testing currently underway by researchers around the world.

  • ALS: Researchers believe that stems cells can help to replenish the supply of motor neurons that are destroyed by ALS. The researchers are also looking at potential ways to stimulate the body’s own stem cells to produce new motor neurons. There have been a few studies that have begun Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials testing the safety and tolerability of using stem cells in patients with ALS.
  • Arthritis: Stem cells may aid in the treatment of this condition as they make chondrocytes that can make cartilage, which is the thin tissue layer that surrounds the joints of the body. The use of stem cells to make transplantable chrondrocytes is in the animal testing stage.
  • Autism: Researchers are looking at stem cells to create potential new medications to treat this disorder. There are a few clinical trials underway looking at treatment of autism and researchers are trying to gain an understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the stem cells in these patients.
  • Cancer: Researchers believe that cancer is propagated by a small subset of cells that exhibit properties of stem cells and that these cells must be killed to cure cancer. They are working to identify and isolate these cells to detect breast cancer, predict disease prognosis, and provide targets for drug therapy. Early clinical trials are underway to track cells and DNA in breast cancer patients prior to surgery, at the time of cancer removal, and four years after removal.
  • Cerebral palsy: Researchers hope that stem cells can be mobilized to help repair and replace cells of the central nervous system that have been damaged by this disease. Very early clinical trials are underway.
  • Crohn’s disease: Stem cells may have the ability to reverse damage of the gastrointestinal tract caused by Crohn’s disease by making new cells, reducing inflammation, enhancing tissue repair, and weakening the immune response. Early stage clinical trials are underway.
  • Diabetes: Researchers hope to use stems cells to produce beta-cell factors or to act as cells that support beta cell repair. Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials are underway.
  • Eye disease: Retinal stem cells may help to reverse retinal damage. Early Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials are underway with some reporting strong results.
  • Heart failure: Stem cells may help to promote growth of new heart tissue and blood vessels, with the aim of restoring function. Early Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials are underway. At the present time, over 1,000 patients have received bone marrow stem cell transplants and the procedure has been shown to be safe and modestly effective.
  • Liver failure: Stem cells may be able to produce hepatocytes that can be used for transplant therapy. Early phase clinical trials have shown that there are some beneficial effects for up to one year in patients with end-stage liver disease.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Stem cells may have the ability to grow into various cells and neurons of the myelin sheath that are damaged in patients with this disease. Stem cells also affect the immune system and may be able to make factors to help protect the neurons. Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trails are investigating if a patient’s own bone marrow stem cells may be able to generate healthy cells and stop the disease progression.
  • Muscular dystrophy: Stem cells may provide a treatment option as the disease is caused by a deficiency of one gene product. Only a few trials have made it into early Phase 1 clinical trials.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Stem cells may be used to make dopamine neurons and act as a source of growth factors to protect neurons. Early stage clinical trials are currently underway.
  • Spinal cord injury: Stem cells may supply new cells and products to help restore lost nerve function and to prevent further damage. Early Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials are underway.
  • Stroke: Researchers are looking at ways to stimulate stem cells in the body to heal damaged brain tissue caused by stroke. Additionally, harvesting stem cells for transplants into stroke patients may help to replace lost cells. Very early clinical trials are underway.
  • Wound healing: Stem cells have the ability to regenerate and grow into different types of cells, including skin cells. Small clinical trials have shown that stem cells from bone marrow helps to close wounds better. There is also a small pilot study underway investigating the use of stem cells in cancer patients who have wounds from radiation treatment, which has shown positive results.

Despite the promising results that are being found in preliminary studies, there are many questions surrounding the safe application of stem cell therapy and further research is needed to identify potential risks associated with this therapy.

What Are The Risks Of Stem Cell Treatments?

There are various risks associated with a stem cell transplant, some which are possibly fatal, including graft-versus-hot disease, stem cell failure, infection, organ damage, cataracts, new cancer, and infertility.

The risk of complications can depend on various factors including the type of disease, the type of transplant, the age of the patient, and the general health of the patient.

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about stem cell treatment, please review the links to the literature below. Additionally, if you think that stem cell treatment may be a treatment option for your condition, speak to your doctor. They can address any further questions or concerns that you may have and discuss any possible risks associated with this procedure, which will help you to make an informed decision about your healthcare.