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.
A major obstacle to successful bone marrow transplants (BMT) is rejection due to the age discrepancy of the donor and recipient, with older donors presenting problems due to the donor stem cells’ loss of efficacy with age. The older stem cells’ compromised ability to actively regenerate (given that older stem cells are less active than younger stem cells) increases the risk of age-related rejection significantly. In a groundbreaking study, researchers have discovered that the in-vitro (outside the body) introduction of young mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to aged donor hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) used for transplants resulted in the rejuvenation of the donor cells likely improving the efficacy of the transplant.
In several clinical and animal studies, researchers are utilizing mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat Type II Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM). Type 2 Diabetes affects approximately 415 million people worldwide, with diabetes mellitus (DM) further exacerbating diabetes’ adverse health effects. Symptoms of DM are caused by both a lack of insulin, as-well-as an intolerance to the scarce amount of insulin that is produced by the pancreatic islet cells. DM is typically a precursor to ischemic heart disease, stroke, blindness and chronic kidney disease with no effective treatments currently available to prevent these complications. With previous treatments using donated organs and insulin producing cells proving unsuccessful, MSCs are emerging as an extremely effective tool to restore normal function to the pancreatic islet cells and alleviate the other symptoms of DM. MSCs (the same type of stem cells that are found in teeth) not only normalize natural insulin levels, but also help ameliorate insulin resistance in the body’s tissues by creating a favorable microenvironment.
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute have directed stem cells to differentiate into neurons with the potential to repair spinal damage that causes paralysis in the legs, known as paraplegia. In an animal model, subjects suffering injury to their spinal cords, causing them to lose all mobility and feeling in their hind limbs, were treated with human stem cells cultured to differentiate into support factors that promote neural growth and survival. Three weeks after administering the stem cell treatment, 42% of the subjects began either walking or showing significant improvements in bearing weight on their hind legs. Furthermore, over 75% of the subjects responded to stimulation in their hind legs. When compared to the placebo group that received no stem cells, the results were impressive and demonstrate the immense potential of utilizing stem cells to restore the neural connections in the spine following a traumatic injury.
A study at the University of Illinois found that stem cell injections can promote angiogenesis, or blood vessel generation, which improves the circulation problems associated with diabetes. The condition in question is peripheral artery disease or PAD, in which patients suffer from restricted blood flow caused by plaque on the walls of the arteries; most typically in the leg. This is due in part to poor circulation in diabetic patients which can cause moderate to severe pain during any movement of the leg. It can also lead to ulcers, sores and, in severe cases, gangrene, which can lead to amputation. In an animal model, stem cell injections were shown to improve blood flow and circulation in problematic areas. They also altered the gene expression of surrounding cells to reduce inflammation, which typically exacerbates the problem. PAD currently lacks effective treatments options and is difficult to diagnose until it has progressed severely hence, the study points to a potential breakthrough therapy that utilizes the patient’s own stem cells.
Researchers in India have used an autologous stem cell treatment in a pilot pre-clinical study to completely reverse the adverse effects of a quickly progressing case of MS (multiple sclerosis). MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own nervous system by breaking down the myelin sheath on neurons. Proper myelination is responsible for faster transmission of nerve signals and aggressive forms of MS cause patients to lose motor functions in their limbs, as well as experience memory and cognition problems. The patient in this study was experiencing a particularly degenerative form of MS, with multiple relapses over the years, and he began losing his ability to walk. After receiving an injection of his own mesenchymal stem cells (the same type of stem cells found in teeth), as well as a monitored diet and physical therapy, the patient experienced immediate improvement. He was soon able to walk and even run again, which he had been unable to do for over five years.
Researchers from Megakaryon of Japan are using stem cells to derive platelet cells, which are regularly in short supply due to a lack of blood donations. Platelet cells assist in clotting and help stop bleeding in surgery and trauma patients. However, because these cells are derived from blood, not only does a shortage exist, but their shelf-life is a mere 4 days, as they cannot be frozen and stored. The protocol involves the expanding and differentiating stem cells into platelet cells. These manufactured cells have a shelf-life of up to 2 weeks and can be administered to patients in need. The new method has the potential to eliminate the need for blood donations.
The FDA panel’s unanimous recommendation to approve an autologous leukemia treatment represents a paradigm shift in medicine in which gene therapies and stem cells will play leading roles.
The treatment involves altering the genes of T cells, which are highly specialized stem cells obtained from bone marrow, to target a specific protein on the surface of defective immune cells that cause leukemia. It works by harvesting the cells from the patient, engineering them to target the protein CD-19 on the surface of B Cells, and intravenously administering the cells back into the patient, where they multiply and essentially eradicate the B Cells. Showing promise, over 80% of the patients in the trial have gone into remission.
Researchers at UCLA, in a step toward clinical trials, have sent subjects to space to test an osteoporosis drug under development. In the latest trial, mice that are administered the drug have been sent to the international space station, where loss of bone mass is exacerbated due to lack of gravity. The drug, NELL-1, has the ability to direct stem cells to become osteoblasts (bone-building cells), making bone restoration more prolific, as well as slowing the loss of bone mass due to age. This drug has the potential to help people with significant bone trauma, such as astronauts, who are subject to loss of bone mass due to prolonged exposure to microgravity, members of the military who experience injury, and individuals experiencing bone loss due to age.
The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has been working on stem cell treatments for injuries to the central nervous system. This particular treatment utilizes the application of autologous stem cells that produce the myelin sheath around neurons. Injuries to the spinal cord result in scar tissue and cavity formation at the site of injury. Given that scar tissue formation hinders signals from being transmitted to the limbs, which then become paralyzed, this treatment has been shown to create a bridge that allows the signal to be transmitted and partially restore limb function in animal subjects.