Autologous stem cell treatments offer several advantages over other forms of stem cell treatment. In autologous stem cell treatment, a patient’s own stem cells are retrieved, processed, and injected back into the patient’s body. There is no need for a stem cell donor, and the entire procedure can take place in the same medical office. Since the patient’s own cells are used for an autologous stem cell treatment, there is no risk of disease transmission from a donor (because there is no donor) and no risk of rejection (because they are the patient’s own stem cells).
Unfortunately, younger stem cells are better for regenerative medicine than older stem cells are. Moreover, older people have fewer stem cells that can be harvested than they did when they were younger. So while autologous stem cell treatment is still advantageous, it becomes more difficult to achieve as patients get older because their stem cells are fewer and less potent. Making matters worse, older stem cells compete against more youthful stem cells, making autologous stem cell treatments potentially even less effective in older patients.
Fortunately, stem cell researchers are coming up with ways to make the most out of the stem cells that older patients still have. They still take a sample of tissue, such as fat, and harvest the stem cells contained within it. However, instead of injecting all stem cells from the sample (both older and youthful stem cells), researchers select and use only youthful stem cells. Furthermore, they make the treatments even more effective by injecting other substances (e.g. extracellular matrix) that helps youthful stem cells survive, grow, and thrive.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach, researchers collected mesenchymal stem cells from about a dozen older individuals aged 65 to 86 years old. They then assorted the stem cells into different groups, separating youthful from older stem cells. They then used special factors to help the youthful stem cells grow, increasing the numbers by an impressive 17,000 times. So while only 8% of stem cells produced by older individuals are “youthful,” this laboratory process increased those numbers to a point that they can be used for stem cell treatments—even stored for future use!
The next phase of the research will be to inject these youthful stem cells into older patients and assess their effectiveness. However, even these preliminary results are exciting, because they suggest that people of all ages can potentially benefit from autologous stem cell treatments, not just middle age and younger individuals.
Reference: Block, TJ et al. (2017). Restoring the quantity and quality of elderly human mesenchymal stem cells for autologous cell-based therapies. Stem Cell Research and Therapy. 2017 Oct 27;8(1):239.
Prostate cancer is quite common among men in the United States. The main treatment options for prostate cancer include:
External beam radiation – Radiation is applied to the prostate gland through the skin (noninvasive)
Brachytherapy – Radioactive pellets the size of grains of rice are placed within the prostate gland (invasive)
Radical prostatectomy – The entire prostate gland and some surrounding tissue is removed
About one-quarter of all men with prostate cancer ultimately choose to have a radical prostatectomy. Unfortunately, this procedure often leaves men with chronic problems afterward, such as urinary incontinence (i.e., the inability to hold or control urine) and erectile dysfunction (i.e., the inability to achieve and maintain a penile erection suitable for sexual intercourse). Almost 90% of men who undergo radical prostatectomy to treat prostate cancer develop erectile dysfunction. Drugs and penile injections are not always effective in treating this type of erectile dysfunction. Consequently, as many as three-quarters of men must live with permanent erectile dysfunction. While prostate cancer is essentially cured after radical prostatectomy, affected men have substantially worse quality of life, which also negatively affects their sexual partners.
In an effort to combat this difficult problem, researchers conducted a Phase 1 clinical trial in which they took stem cells from the patient’s own fat tissue (autologous stem cells), purified them, and injected them into the penile tissue of radical prostatectomy patients with erectile dysfunction. Eight of the 17 men who volunteered for the clinical trial regained erectile function and were able to engage in sexual intercourse after just one stem cell injection.
Importantly, stem cell treatment was only effective for men who had not developed urinary incontinence. Eight of 11 men who still could control their urine after radical prostatectomy regained their ability to achieve and maintain erections. Conversely, no man with urinary incontinence after radical prostatectomy had erectile function restored.
The researchers noted that the stem cell treatment was very well tolerated by all men, and described the procedure as safe.
While larger clinical trials are needed to confirm these results, autologous stem cells taken from a patient’s own fat tissue were able to restore erectile function in most of the men treated. This research suggests that men who do not lose urinary function may benefit from this procedure. On the other hand, men who become incontinent after radical prostatectomy may not benefit from this particular stem cell therapy. Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials will help clarify this issue. In the meantime, these results are encouraging news to thousands of men who suffer from permanent erectile dysfunction as a result of their radical prostatectomies.
Reference: Haahr, MK et al. (2016). Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine. 2016 Jan 19;5:204-10.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a degenerative condition that is hereditary caused by mutations to a gene called dystrophin. The condition affects both skeletal and cardiac muscles, impairing physical mobility and leading to weakened heart and respiratory functioning. Current treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy aim to control the symptoms of the condition and enhance the quality of life, but there is no known cure.
Given the need for effective therapies in Duchenne muscular dystrophy and the success of stem cells in treating other degenerative conditions, research has begun to focus on how cell therapies may be able to help Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients. Mesenchymal stem cells have been considered as an approach to this form of therapy.
Much of the research to date has emphasized autologous sources of stem cells that come from the patient themselves – such as from bone marrow or adipose tissues. However, a recent study, published in Biomaterials, investigated the impact of allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells – which comes from someone other than the patient – on Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Specifically, the researchers looked at the therapeutic effects of placenta-derived mesenchymal stem cells.
The scientists found that using placenta-derived mesenchymal stem cells may be able to reduce the amount of scarring and thickening of the connective tissue of the cardiac muscles and diaphragm in Duchenne muscular dystrophy while also minimizing inflammation. These promising findings demonstrate the potential to use stem cells to reverse the pathology of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and not just to address the symptoms. Future research will help to determine if regenerative therapy could have a meaningful impact on the course of this condition.
Reference: Bier et al. 2018. Placenta-derived mesenchymal stromal cells and their exosomes exert therapeutic effects in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Biomaterials, 174, 67-78.
Spinal cord injury is severe neurological condition in which
the major mode of transmission between the brain and the body is disrupted.
When higher levels of the spinal cord are injured, for example, in the neck,
the injury can be immediately fatal. Those who survived spinal cord injury are
often left paralyzed and at risk for a number of comorbid conditions
such as pneumonia, depression, skin ulceration infection, urinary tract
infections, and pain.
If patients who sustain spinal cord injury can receive
medical treatment quickly, physicians may administer glucocorticoids to help
reduce swelling around the injury and preserve spinal cord function. Patients
may also undergo therapeutic
hypothermia (a.k.a. targeted temperature management, whole body cooling),
also to help reduce inflammation and prevent scar tissue from forming around
the damaged spinal cord.
After the first few days to weeks after spinal cord injury,
not much can be done to change the outcome of the disease. Patients may undergo
intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy to help regain function,
but more often than not the neurological deficits are mostly permanent. Hence,
researchers are feverishly searching for ways to treat spinal cord injury and,
by extension, prevent or reduce paralysis and other chronic complications.
Mesenchymal stem cells are an intriguing potential therapy
for spinal cord injury. These cells can easily be obtained from many different
tissues including bone marrow and fat among others. In animals, mesenchymal stem
cells have been shown to improve changes that occur during spinal cord injury,
namely the regeneration
and strengthening of nerve cells in the spinal cord. Research
has also shown how adipose-derived stem cells are a potential option for those
with neurological conditions such as spinal cord injury.
To test this possible effect in humans, researchers collected
mesenchymal stromal (stem) cells from patients with spinal cord injury in
their upper back (i.e. thoracic spinal cord). Researchers then prepared and administered
those cells back into the cerebrospinal fluid of the same patients. Each
patient received two or three injections of approximately 1,000,000 cells per
kilogram body weight. There were no adverse effects of the treatment for up to
two years after injection. MRI imaging showed no abnormalities resulting from
stem cell infusion. While the authors write that there were too few patients to
make any firm conclusions about the efficacy of the treatment, they were
strongly encouraged by the safety of the procedure. In fact, they use these
results to begin a placebo-controlled clinical trial.
Satti et al. (2016). Autologous mesenchymal stromal cell
transplantation for spinal cord injury: A Phase I pilot study. International Society for Cellular Therapy,
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