More Good News with Adult Stem Cells for Patients
By David Prentice, PhD | March 08, 2017
by David Prentice, PhD
There are an increasing number of bioethical challenges in the realm of medicine and bioscience, and these new twists and paths often draw our focus and concerns as we try to understand what these mean to our purpose of defending life and doing no harm. But arming ourselves to meet these challenges sometimes overshadows the positive wonders and results from ethical pathways. As a respite and to educate on some of those positives, let’s refresh ourselves with some of the good news regarding patient therapies with adult stem cells. Adult stem cells can be obtained without harm to the donor, unlike embryonic stem cells or fetal tissue, and are the true gold standard of stem cells when it comes to successful treatments for patients.
Over the last few years, there has been an explosion in numbers of patients treated with adult stem cells, as well as a blossoming of numbers of adult stem cell clinical trials. In 2012, a little more than 2,500 adult stem cell clinical trials were listed in the approved FDA-NIH database. Currently, more than 3,600 ongoing or completed clinical trials using adult stem cells are listed, with over 70,000 people around the globe receiving adult stem cell transplants each year. By the end of 2012, there had already been over one million adult stem cell transplants total, with over 75 countries benefitting, and much of the growth in this area is taking place in the United States. In fact, nearly 20,000 adult stem cell transplants were performed in the United States in 2014 alone.
The field of adult stem cell transplants is poised for even more growth. Just a few months ago, the federal government passed the 21st Century Cures initiative, which will open even more avenues, provide more funding for adult stem cell work and hopefully speed translation of laboratory studies into clinical trials.
When it comes to specific trials and potential therapeutic targets, there are many recent good news stories. One example that is moving rapidly into the clinic is use of adipose (fat)-derived adult stem cells for joints and cartilage replacement. An international research consortium showed a decrease of pain and increase of function using the patient’s own adult stem cells to treat osteoarthritis. In addition, a Swiss group also showed effectiveness of adult stem cells to repair cartilage injuries. While much more needs to be done to validate these results, adult stem cells are already moving into the clinic in many locales as primary or adjunct treatments for cartilage and joint problems.
Adult stem cells are also being developed for skin repair, especially after severe burns. The cells can be sprayed onto burns and other wounds, quickly providing a sterile seal and inducing more rapid skin regrowth than usually seen with grafts.
For neurological repairs, there continues to be progress in treating relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis with adult stem cells, and the most recent papers show long-term remission of at least five years for half of the patients. The disease myasthenia gravis, another severe autoimmune neurologic condition, has also shown positive response when patients are treated with their own adult stem cells. And stroke patients treated with adult stem cells have also shown surprising recoveries when adult stem cells are used, even years after the stroke event.
Much of the results given in this brief gallop through recent adult stem cell therapeutic trials need further validation and testing before these therapies enter mainstream medical practice. But these preliminary results for patients provide hope where there previously was no hope. And that’s good news for everyone.
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