A recent review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences covers evidence demonstrating that Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells show promise for treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). After analyzing the literature on how stem cells may be applied in COPD treatment, the authors suggest that chronic immune-inflammatory processes are a critical component of COPD that these stem cells may be able to combat.
According to the authors of the study, several characteristics of Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells make them well suited to therapies against COPD and other immune-inflammatory diseases. These characteristics include their accessibility, their ability to expand and differentiate, and their tendency to avoid the immune reactions that often occur with other types of stem cells. These cells can come from several types of tissue, including adipose tissue, the umbilical cord, and bone marrow, and can differentiate into many different cell types.
Given the inflammatory nature of COPD, the ability of Wharton’s jelly mesenchymal stem cells to avoid serious immune reactions upon implantation may be one of the most important features of these cells. Youthful forms of these stem cells appear particularly promising, as they are agile and even less likely to cause problematic immune reactions. Intuitively, youthful stem cells are healthier in many ways because they have not undergone the biological damage that occurs with aging.
In addition to their relatively low likelihood of causing immune reactions, mesenchymal stem cells have also been shown to relieve inflammation in the airway in some studies. They have done so by producing mucus that can help minimize inflammation, by killing off cells involved in inflammation, by inhibiting the formation of problematic fibrous connective tissue, and by promoting the formation of new blood vessels.
As the reviewers note, the positive results of preclinical investigations justified the initiation of clinical trials using mesenchymal stem cells in COPD. As such, there are currently Phase I and Phase II trials underway and some that have already been completed. One completed study demonstrated the safety of using these stem cells, as no patients experienced serious adverse side effects after stem cell transplantation. The study also showed that the stem cells were associated with a reduction in an inflammatory marker, suggesting that the stem cells may, in fact, help to reduce inflammation in these patients.
Another study also demonstrated safety. It also showed functional improvement in COPD patients. These patients performed better on the breathing spirometry test after stem cell transplantation. This change in performance suggests that the pathological degeneration occurring in the lungs of those with COPD was slowed with the implantation of stem cells. These patients also experienced improved quality of life after the stem cell transplantation.