Researchers at Rutgers University have created a bio-degradable scaffold that could overcome the biggest hurdle in stem cell treatments, which is cell survival and delivery. In order for a treatment to be effective, the stem cells must reach the designated site and remain there while they work. "Our enhanced stem cell transplantation approach is an innovative potential solution," comments Professor Ki Bum Lee, senior author of the study.
A case study utilizing a patient’s own stem cells to treat rheumatoid arthritis demonstrated a drastic decrease in joint pain and inflammation. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) occurs when the immune system incorrectly attacks the body’s tissues, eventually leading to joint deformities, bone erosion and intense pain due to the breakdown of the lining of the joint. Typical treatments for RA involve anti-inflammatory medications, or surgery to repair the joints. However, both types of treatments involve severe side effects and are not guaranteed to work. The stem cell treatment sighted in the case study holds the potential to radically upend current practices and create a new standard of care for this widespread disorder.
Researchers are utilizing mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) infusions to help heal severe tissue damage following radiation treatments. Often, when patients receive treatment for cancer, the process involves painful and prolonged side effects from the chemotherapy and radiation, which significantly impacts the patients’ quality of life, even when in remission. MSC intravenous infusions demonstrated both healing properties and resulted in a reduction of pain and fistulization (the abnormal connections between organs due to injury and inflammation) following radiation. The patients receiving the treatment had sustained intestinal tissue damage following radiation treatments, and prior to the treatment all patients were experiencing pain, inflammation, fibrosis and hemorrhaging.
Doctors at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a stem cell hydrogel designed to keep teeth alive following a root canal. This revolutionary, biological hydrogel is said to stimulate angiogenesis, which is the growth of blood vessels, and this key factor could help teeth remain both alive and more fortified, compared to a traditional root canal treatment. When patients require root canals, the decay inside the pulpal chamber and canals is cleared and replaced with gutta percha. This eliminates the infection, but also renders the tooth dead typically leading to the loss of the tooth entirely later on. The hydrogel, seeded with dental pulp stem cells and working in conjunction with the hydrogel’s promotion of angiogenesis, has the potential to repopulate the tooth with living, functioning dental pulp and restoring function to the tooth.
Researchers at Georgia Tech are investigating the efficacy of a stem cell infused hydrogel to facilitate the healing of muscular injuries, particularly common in elderly individuals as well as muscular dystrophy patients. The stem cells found in the hydrogel are called muscle satellite cells, and younger individuals have plentiful stores of these cells to actively and efficiently repair muscle injuries as soon as they happen. However, as individuals age, stem cells become less plentiful and less active, hence, for older individuals, recovery from muscle injuries becomes more protracted and less certain. For individuals with muscular dystrophy, muscle cells are under constant stress. The research seeks to improve on the more common approach of injecting the stem cells directly into the site of damaged muscle, by using the hydrogel to protect the stem cells and ensure that as many of them as possible reach the affected site thereby improving the efficacy of the treatment.
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 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 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.
A mesenchymal stem cell treatment for patients with cardiac muscle degeneration and ventricular failure is being conducted at the MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute. The patients currently being recruited for the study are those who require left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) in order to pump their heart, and these patients are in severe stages of cardiac failure. In pre-clinical models, intravenous mesenchymal stem cell injections have greatly improved left ventricular function, which is responsible for pumping and pressurizing the blood to the rest of the body. Additionally, there was a significant decrease in the inflammatory response that is indicative of damaged cardiac muscles. By reducing inflammation researchers hope to not only provide immediate relief for the strained cardiac muscle, but also slow or stop the progression of heart failure.
A collaborative effort between researchers at Stanford University, the Joint Institute of Metrology and Biology, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has developed a modified and more targeted version of CRISPR, which is more efficient at editing single nucleotide mutations. The new system is called MAGESTIC (multiplexed, accurate genome-editing through short, trackable, integrated cellular barcodes), and it has been shown to successfully modify genes by accurately targeting the location of defective genes. MAGESTIC ameliorates and addresses the current shortcomings of gene-editing technology by enhancing the ability of CRISPR to target single genes [out of millions] with the purpose of correcting specific mutations.