Australia’s Federal Health Minister has just announced the establishment of the Australian Stem Cell Therapies Mission [with initial funding of 150 million AUD], which strives to put the country at the forefront of medical progress. The Minister has stated that the country’s commitment to invest in creating autologous treatments [utilizing the patients' own stem cells] to effectively treat Parkinson’s, dementia, spinal cord injuries and other previously incurable diseases and injuries, over the course of 10 years. Additionally, the promise of tailoring treatments to each patient with autologous cells could create more effective options compared to standardized medicine.
Topics: stem cell research
In a Phase II clinical trial, researchers are using autologous (the patients’ own) mesenchymal stem cells to treat Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 5.7 million Americans are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s [with approximately 5.5 million over the age of 65 and approximately 220k under 65 experiencing early onset Alzheimer’s] with the number expected to triple by 2060. Additionally, the disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in U.S. adults; and while incidents of other common ailments like heart disease and cancer are decreasing, Alzheimer’s is on the rise.
Researchers at Texas A&M University are utilizing stem cell injections into the brain to alleviate the most common and severe case of seizures of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) in an animal model. The experimental treatment resulted in 70% of the subjects experiencing a reduction in the number of seizures with researchers expecting the number to climb as the research advances. Current treatment of TLE involves treatment with medication [to which 40% of patients do not respond] or, invasive surgery. To eliminate this type of epilepsy, some patients have their entire hippocampus removed, which can lead to disastrous side effects impacting the patient’s mood and memory.
Researchers in Korea are conducting clinical trials utilizing autologous [the patient’s own] stem cells to repair rotator cuff damage. The patients participating in the study sustained a partial thickness rotator cuff tear, which caused chronic shoulder pain and would otherwise require surgical intervention. Typically, rotator cuff tears are treated with nonsurgical methods, such as corticosteroid injections, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication. However, these treatments leave nearly half of the patients with chronic pain.
Researchers at the Salk Institute have developed a method to reprogram stem cells in skin ulcers and sores to differentiate into epithelial (skin) cells. The treatment advance has the potential to revolutionize treatment options for patients suffering from chronic skin conditions such as epidermolysis bullosa, ulcers and sores due to diabetes, bedsores and severe burns. Typically, there is an abundance of stem cells at the site of wounds such as ulcers. However, the stem cells prioritize dealing with inflammation and infection over the regeneration of skin tissue. The researchers sought to reprogram wound-resident mesenchymal stem cells in vivo [inside the body] by applying transduction factors, which directed the stem cells to generate skin tissue. Hence, the treatment is designed to generate new skin at the site of the wound as opposed to the current approach of utilizing a skin graft.
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.
Researchers at Novoheart have created functional mini heart organoids, which are the first of their kind to contain chambers, like those found in fully grown human hearts. This advancement in stem cell engineering will expedite drug trials, which could bring potential cures to those who need them much sooner. Typically, new drugs take many years and require exorbitant resources to bring them to market, but Novoheart’s mini heart organoids look to disrupt the status quo and speed up the development of treatment options. Since these hearts have tissues differentiated from adult stem cells, the organoids behave and react to treatments like real hearts would, which allows researchers to detect and eliminate detrimental side effects long before reaching clinical trials. Additionally, the heart organoids can be used to understand cardiovascular diseases, which affect millions of people around the world.
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.
In a phase 1 clinical trial, a novel mesenchymal stem cell [MSCs] therapy was successfully applied to treat often fatal steroid resistant graft versus host disease [GVHD]. A significant concern with life-saving organ and bone marrow transplants is the risk of immune rejection. GVHD occurs when the transplanted immune cells attack the patient’s body, with patients typically suffering from painful ulcers all over the body, and in extreme cases, death. The therapy, created by Cynata Therapeutics, is called CYP-001, and utilizes mesenchymal stem cells [the same type of cells found in teeth] to treat steroid resistant GVHD. This treatment gives hope to thousands of patients around the world receiving bone marrow transplants and risking the extremely fatal immune response.
UCLA researchers are using stem cells and gene therapy to reverse the effects of HIV. The treatment utilizes stem cells to carry the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) genes that have been successfully used to treat leukemia and are being explored for other cancers. The modified stem cells can trigger the immune system to specifically target and destroy HIV infected cells without harming nearby healthy cells. The stem cells carrying the gene are able to directly interrupt the mechanism between the virus and body cell surface receptors that allow the virus to infect the cells by binding to the virus and destroying it.