Researchers have recently published their results from an experiment conducted to determine if a certain type of stem cell, called the umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cell, has the potential for treating primary biliary cirrhosis. Primary biliary cirrhosis is a disease of the liver in which the bile ducts of the liver are increasingly destroyed over time.
In this disease, as the bile ducts are destroyed, bile and other toxins in the liver accumulate and lead to cholestasis. At this point, bile cannot flow out of the liver. Damage then occurs to the tissue of the liver, leading to scarring. As the scarring collects, excessive amounts of fibrous connective tissue form on the liver in what is called fibrosis. The late stage of fibrosis is known as cirrhosis, where the liver ceases to function properly.
The disease is autoimmune in nature, and because stem cells have shown promise for treating other types of autoimmune disease, presumably by impacting the activity of the immune system, researchers have reasoned that stem cells may also be beneficial for those suffering from primary biliary cirrhosis. In primary biliary cirrhosis, the body mistakes the liver, or aspects of it, as foreign and harmful and begins to attack it.
In their experiment, the scientists found that using umbilical cord-derived stem cells inhibited the problematic immune system activity associated with primary biliary cirrhosis. As a result, using umbilical cord-derived stem cells led to lower levels of problematic immune system components, as well as lower inflammation.
These results are a promising first step toward understanding how stem cells could potentially be used to treat primary biliary cirrhosis. As the research advances, it will become clearer how these cells can best be used to treat patients and how the cells have the impact they do on the liver and on disease progression.