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Good News for Patients from Adult Stem Cells

By David Prentice, PhD | July 14, 2016

by David Prentice, PhD

There has been a spate of disappointing news lately, and new challenges and concerns for healthcare professionals seem to appear weekly. But we at times need to take hope from good news and be refreshed.

Doctors at Stanford recently reported results from a study treating stroke patients with adult stem cells, results that they themselves said left them “stunned.” After a stroke, almost all recovery takes place within the first 30 days, and dogma says improvements dwindle until there is no further recovery after six months. In this study, 18 patients whose stroke event occurred six months to two years prior to the study (in other words, well after any expectation of recovery), were treated with adult stem cells. The donor cells, from bone marrow, were injected intracerebrally and the patients followed for up to 12 months in this initial report. The follow-up was what stunned the researchers. Even at one month, patients showed improved movement, and all patients showed significant progress by 12 months. In seven out of 18 cases the improvements were stunning, including examples such as a wheelchair-bound patient being able to resume walking unaided. While this was only a small initial trial, these results dismiss the old dogma regarding irreversible damage from stroke.

A recent study out of Canada does similar damage to the idea that multiple sclerosis (MS) is irreversible and therapies can only slow the progression of the disease. Superlatives also abound in the statements of the doctors who did the study as well as others who reviewed the results, including that they were “floored” by the outcome and patient improvement was “impressive.” A strong dose of caution is also needed, as this technique is not a gentle one. The patient receives high-dose chemotherapy to ablate the bone marrow, a protocol that is high-risk. The marrow is then regenerated by a transplant of the patient’s own (autologous) bone marrow adult stem cells. As reported in The Lancet, 24 patients aged 18 to 50 years old were enrolled in the study. In 70 percent of patients, there was almost immediate cessation of inflammation and disease progression. Moreover, 40 percent of patients were put into a state of remission, with reversal of symptom progression and recovery of neural function. In practical terms, the patients were able to resume their normal activities, such as work and school. One female patient who previously had difficulty walking without a cane was walking unaided and danced at her wedding. The recoveries have lasted up to several years. Due to the risk, patients must carefully consider submitting to the protocol, and at present it is only offered at major clinical centers, but the outcomes have been heartwarming. This study validates previous work by an international group using a similar protocol to treat MS. That study, reported in 2015, also used immunoablative pretreatment, followed by autologous bone marrow adult stem cell transplant. Published in JAMA, that study found 50 percent of patients had neurological improvement at two years follow-up, with 64 percent showing significant improvement at four years after transplant. As with the Canadian study, the remission rate was astounding, including decreased neurological lesions. Such recovery had not been seen before for MS patients.

Healing hearts with adult stem cells has also been the subject of a recent report. Results of a multicenter trial reported in The Lancet found that injections directly into patient hearts of adult stem cells from bone marrow helped patients after heart failure. The study was a large, double-blind trial, with 58 treated patients compared to 51 patients in the control group. After 12 months, the treated group showed a significant improvement in heart function as well as a decrease in further cardiac events. Adult stem cell therapies to improve heart function continue to progress, with this recent study further validating the positive effects.

While much of the focus in regenerative medicine has been transplant of adult stem cells into a damaged tissue, some work is also being done to stimulate endogenous stem cells to repair the damage in situ, without the need to remove and then replace any cells. Ultimately, this method may be the best one to provide healing, simply activating the body’s own natural regenerative processes and targeting the reparative effects. One recent example of this method was demonstrated by an international team who were able to grow a completely new lens in the eye. The research team attacked the problem of cataracts, in particular congenital cataracts in infants, by developing a new surgical technique. They observed that proliferation of normal lens stem cells occurred if there was mild stimulation in the eye. By making a smaller incision in an eye to remove a lens affected by cataracts, they were able to preserve and stimulate the endogenous adult stem cells and also stimulate their proliferation to replace the missing lens. As reported in the journal Nature, the stimulated stem cells regenerated normal, clear lens within the eye. The technique was successful in rabbits and macaque monkeys, as well as in 12 human infants under two years old. Regeneration of new, functional lenses for the children occurred within three months of surgery.

I hope these good news stories have given you hope and encourage you to follow Paul’s exhortation: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8, NASB).


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