In a clinical study, researchers at Queen Mary University of London will utilize autologous stem cells to reboot the immune system of Crohn’s disease patients, with the aim of greatly alleviating the inflammation of the bowel thus significantly improving the patients’ quality of life. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder in which portions of the bowel are attacked by the immune system leading to severe inflammation, malnutrition and debilitating abdominal pain. Though there is currently no effective cure, this stem cell treatment has shown promise in treating the erroneous attacks of the immune system on the bowel tissues. The treatment involves a stimulation of the bone marrow to release stem cells, which are then harvested, followed by an irradiation of the body to eliminate the malfunctioning immune system. The recovered healthy immune stem cells are then reinfused into the body to reboot the immune system and eliminate the inflammation of the bowels.
A City of Hope researchers are utilizing stem cells to understand the genetic mutations that occur in astrocytes, a type of neuron, as well as damage to the myelin sheath, which is integral to the development of ALS and Alzheimer’s. Stem cells were used to create a model of Alexander disease, which is a neurological disorder similar to ALS and Alzheimer’s in its pathology, part of which involves a genetic mutation that hinders the production of an adequate myelin sheath, a fatty membrane that covers neurons and expedites signal transduction. Using this technique, the researchers homed in on the CHI3L protein, which seems to be primarily responsible for neuroinflammation and stunted neuronal development, including an inadequate myelin sheath.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch are using autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to successfully transplant entire lungs without the risk of rejection. In animal models, researchers obtained a lung from a donor and removed all blood and cells, leaving a lung scaffold. Then, they obtained autologous lung stem cells from the subject and seeded the lung scaffold so that the lung would be repopulated. This created a brand new lung for transplantation, comprised of cells that would not be rejected because they are the patient’s own. When implanted back into the body, the engineered lungs were able to grow and vascularize with no additional treatments or infusions. This protocol could potentially be expanded to provide life-saving organs for hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for organ transplants, which, besides the obvious shortage, still pose a risk of immune rejection.
Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital are advancing Alzheimer’s research by creating lab grown models of affected neurons, which will allow for a vastly improved and nuanced understanding of the inner-workings of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder that is difficult to diagnose and currently, can only be confirmed during a post-mortem autopsy, which usually reveals the neural inflammation that is believed to be the cause of most of the symptoms leading to the ultimate loss of memory and basic skills. Using stem cells, the researchers were able to grow neurons that exhibit both neuroinflammation and the indicative tangles and plaques of Alzheimer’s. This major breakthrough should enable the development of more targeted, effective treatments - and possibly a cure for Alzheimer’s, which currently affects millions of people worldwide and has no effective treatment options.
A Phase I clinical trial has been approved to assess the efficacy of a stem cell graft procedure that seeks to provide a more robust treatment option for the millions of individuals who suffer from cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a disease which affects cardiac muscle, making it extremely difficult to for the heart to pump blood, straining and wearing down the cardiac muscles further. Prolonged cardiomyopathy can require surgical intervention, and in severe cases, a heart transplant. By implanting a thin membrane of collagen scaffold – seeded with the patient’s own stem cells, over the affected area, the stem cell graft changes the status quo on cardiomyopathy treatments by allowing the damaged heart muscle to mend itself. While current surgical treatments lack long-term efficacy in clinical applications, this novel approach was developed to specifically concentrate the stem cells to the site of the damaged tissue thereby increasing cellular repair and survival.
A study cited in the Journal of Medical Cases has demonstrated successful results utilizing autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to repair a torn meniscus without surgical intervention. Meniscal injuries are the most frequent knee injuries, and they are particularly common in athletes, but can also occur due to aging. Typically, meniscal tears are treated with surgical intervention, which requires “stitches” meant to hold the tear together until it heals, or cutting out the torn part entirely. The surgical intervention method, though safe, requires extensive physical therapy to strengthen supporting muscles, as well as weeks of recovery time on crutches. Imaging of a tear following a stem cell therapy showed that 9 months after a stem cell injection, the tear healed to the point where it was virtually unnoticeable.
Organs-on-Chips are set to be studied in zero gravity at the International Space Station. Astronauts who go into space have been known to experience changes in their health and immune response, but until recently, the reasons for these changes remained largely unknown. Previously, animals were sent as a way to determine the long-term health effects of being in space. However, since every organism functions differently, this approach, while useful, had obvious drawbacks. Organs-on-Chips [OOCs] are an innovation created by a collaborative effort of the Wyss Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others. OOCs are small vessels that utilize stem cells to create various tissue types to simulate the conditions inside human organs. If the tests prove successful, these tiny chips will be the closest researchers get to estimating the effects of space travel on human organ function - aside from sending out actual astronauts.
Bone grafts help millions of people suffering from bone loss due to trauma or disease. Typically, traumatic bone injuries and bone loss due to disease have been mended with synthetic grafts or segments of bone taken from another area in the patient’s body. However, these treatments do not last long-term in growing bodies, and lack vasculature required for mature bone growth. In vitro tests at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute of a new technology called Segmental Additive Tissue Engineering (SATE) have demonstrated stem cell grown segments of bone creating large scale, personalized grafts. The SATE protocol seeds the patient’s own stem cells into a scaffold and directs the cells to develop into customized and vascularized bone segments, which pose virtually no risk of rejection, and are able to grow with the patient.
A phase II clinical study investigating the efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells [MSCs] to treat moderate to severe lupus symptoms has been launched by the Lupus Foundation of America, in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the NIH). Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the immune system can affect virtually any tissue in the body, including skin, joints and organs. MSCs represent a promising treatment option in that, in addition to the inherent plasticity of MSCs, they also possess immune modulation properties. The NIH is providing resources and oversight for the study, which will investigate how mesenchymal stem cells can effectively regulate and limit the autoimmune response of Lupus sufferers. Currently there are no effective options for their lupus symptoms other than steroid treatments, which have significant side effects, as they are detrimental to vital organ function.
Researchers are developing stem cell therapies to restore neurons and repair optic nerve injuries, which cause severe visual impairment and eventual blindness. Currently, optic nerve injuries are untreatable, due to the neuronal death that renders the nerve non-functional following a traumatic injury. This study investigates how periodontal ligament stem cells [PDLSCs] can improve retinal ganglion cells’ (RGC) survival, responsible for the optic nerve’s function. In an animal model, three weeks after an injection of PDLSCs, researchers observed inflammatory responses indicative of increased RGC survival, as well as regeneration of nerve connections, with no adverse effects.