A team of researchers at the Hadassah Medical Center in Israel has developed a unique method of applying a patient’s own stem cells to restore mobility following progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own neurons and affects millions of people worldwide. Severely progressive MS leads to complete loss of limb function, memory problems, seizures, and even systemic organ failure. This groundbreaking, double-blind, Phase II clinical trial successfully administered autologous (the patient’s own) mesenchymal stem cells, which were cultured and expanded to clinically significant numbers, and then applied directly into the spinal fluid. The treatment simultaneously addressed the two problems of MS - inflammatory immune response and the destruction of the outer coating of neurons that allows for quick signal transduction thereby engendering a significant increase in efficacy.
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 collaborative effort from German and Italian researchers allowed a child dying from severe epidermolysis bullosa (EB) to lead a healthy, normal life. EB is a genetic disorder which causes the top layer of the skin (epidermis) to become extremely fragile and easily blister-prone. Patients with EB typically do not live past the age of 30, given the exorbitant risk of infections and other complications of having “paper thin” skin, and there is currently no cure. However, a recent experimental skin graft, made from the patient’s own stem cells, allowed a young boy to return to normalcy. The graft’s success comes from a technique of genetic engineering to correct the defective gene that causes EB in immature stem cells, and then develops those stem cells into layers of epithelial tissue and applies them to the patient’s affected areas. Though the risk of such procedures is high, using the patient’s own cells minimizes the risk of rejection and provides a safer alternative to merely enduring this disease.
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 at Harvard Medical School have utilized stem cells to grow a functional small intestine in a lab. Using human stem cells, the researchers were able to differentiate them into intestinal cells and induced them to form a fully functional intestinal tissue. Previous studies have been successful at growing miniscule segments of the organ, but this innovative study has homed in on a method for compiling smaller, stem cell-derived tissue into an organoid that could soon be available to use in transplants as replacement for damaged organs. Patients who suffer from gastrointestinal tract ailments could benefit from this, in addition to patients who have had portions of their digestive tracts removed due to cancer.
Sanford Health is heading into the second phase of clinical trials involving autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to treat non-healing wounds and ulcers on the body. The trial will be recruiting patients 18 and older to continue testing the efficacy of stem cells in treating wounds that would not heal due to a person’s preexisting conditions. People with weakened immune systems could also benefit from this treatment, given that it would prevent the enormous risk of infection that non-healing wounds pose. Additionally, the treatment could even be applied to heal wounds from surgeries, expediting recovery time dramatically.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has recently invested $11.6 million into stem cell based regenerative research being conducted at the Temple University School of Medicine. Given the increased incidence of heart disease in recent years, stem cell based treatments are emerging as an optimal method of treatment, though there are still a few hurdles these treatments must overcome in order to be at their optimal effectiveness. Many of the challenges with current stem cell treatments for heart disease are due to the age of the patients and their age-related ailments. Obtaining stem cells for treatment at an older age reduces the stem cells’ efficacy - compared to younger cells, and also impacts the yield; often resulting in an insufficient number of cells for treatment.
Collaborating researchers from the University of California Davis Medical Center and the Second Xiangya Hospital of the Central-South University (Hunan, China) are developing an autologous [the patient’s own] stem cell protocol to aid the rehabilitation process following a hip fracture. With over 300,000 hip fractures in the US alone, and with many patients failing to return to an independent lifestyle following the fracture, the need for more effective rehabilitation methodologies is great; the mortality rate following a fracture is high as well. The team of researchers is focusing on the application of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to facilitate the healing process and get patients back on their feet. When tested in an animal model, autologous MSCs were engineered to express a growth factor called bFGF, which directs the differentiation of these stem cells into osteoblasts that will later become bone. When injected back into the subject with a hip fracture, this growth factor also successfully promoted vascularization around the fracture site and the ossification of the bone.
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 at the University of California Irvine have created a method of engineering mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to specifically target and help destroy cancer metastasis, which is an indicator of cancer spreading and the cause of approximately 90% of cancer deaths. The researchers are utilizing MSCs that have been engineered to detect stiffened tissues, a typical indicator of breast cancer metastases. These stem cells then release an enzyme upon detection of the cancer cells that triggers the activation of a localized chemotherapy. This is a revolutionary method of treating cancer given that one of the biggest concerns with chemotherapy is its ability to not only harm cancer cells, but also harm healthy cells as well.