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.
Frailty is a syndrome of weight-loss, exhaustion, weakness, slowness, and decreased physical activity. These features combine to make frail individuals more susceptible to physical, psychosocial, and cognitive impairments. Unfortunately, frailty is rather common among elderly individuals. In one study of over 44,000 elderly adults living in the community estimated the overall prevalence of frailty was 10.7%. While the risk of becoming frail increases with old age, frailty is not a normal part of aging. Instead, the syndrome of frailty is driven by biological processes such as inflammation and stem cell dysfunction.
No specific treatment can prevent or reverse frailty. Indeed, the goal of treatment is to maximize the patient’s functional capacity and overall health. The most widely accepted way to manage frailty is a multimodal and multidisciplinary approach. Frail individuals or those at risk for becoming frail are encouraged to participate in strength training and aerobic exercise to build up a cardiovascular reserve and physical fitness. At the same time, substantial efforts are devoted to helping patients consume enough calories to maintain lean muscle and support their immune function. As appetite diminishes, malnutrition can become an issue, so supplemental nutrition may be needed. Physicians can help patients by optimizing medical treatments and reducing the total number of medications prescribed (i.e. avoiding polypharmacy).
Despite these multimodal treatments, most frail patients tend to get worse over time. One hope of treatment is to slow the rate of decline; however, this is not always possible.
Since frailty is driven by stem cell dysfunction, a reasonable way to prevent or treat frailty could be to provide patients with healthy stem cells. Researchers recently conducted a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial in 30 elderly patients with frailty. Frail patients received an IV infusion of either human mesenchymal stem cells or placebo. The researchers then followed the patients for 6 months to assess the safety and efficacy of the stem cell treatment.
Stem cell treatment resulted in a rather remarkable set of benefits for frail patients. Compared to placebo, patients treated with stem cells performed significantly better on tests of physical strength and stamina. Stem cell-treated patients used calories more efficiently, which is a sign that they were more physically fit than those in the placebo group. Moreover, patients who received stem cells had better lung function at the end of the trial than those in the control group. Interestingly, women who received stem cell treatment reported a substantial increase in sexual quality of life compared to those in the placebo group. Lastly, no patients experienced any treatment-related serious adverse events.
When one considers how difficult it is to treat frailty or even alter its progressive decline, these results are remarkable. Stem cell treatment not only stopped the progression of frailty, but patients actually improved in several important measures including physical strength, physical endurance, lung function, and sexual quality of life. We anxiously await a pivotal clinical trial to confirm these results.
Reference: Tompkins, BA. (2017). Allogeneic Mesenchymal Stem Cells Ameliorate Aging Frailty: A Phase II Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2017 Oct 12;72(11):1513-1522.
You don’t need a microscope to recognize aging skin. Aging skin has fine lines and wrinkles; it sags because it has lost elasticity; it is discolored and blotchy. But if you did look at aging skin under a microscope, you would notice that it lacks collagen, elastin, and many other helpful proteins. There would be many old cells and a few young ones. Indeed, old skin looks different under a microscope than new skin, and it is these differences at the cellular level that causes the aging we see on people’s faces.
Fortunately, these cellular changes may not be a curse. Stem cell therapy may be able to replace the proteins that are lost during aging and replace old cells with newer, healthier cells. In short, stem cell therapy may be able to can rejuvenate facial skin and reverse the signs of aging.
The team of Korean stem cell researchers recently completed a study in which they collected mesenchymal stem cells from various sources and used them to rejuvenate human skin. The researchers collected stem cells from fat tissue (adipose), bone marrow, and umbilical cord samples. Umbilical cord tissue is tissue that is normally discarded after childbirth as medical waste. In the laboratory, the scientists then cleaned and purified each of these types of mesenchymal stem cells.
In laboratory studies, the researchers found that mesenchymal stem cells produced substantial amounts of skin rejuvenating factors including collagen type I, collagen type IV, fibronectin, and elastin. Interestingly, they found that umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells produced a 100-fold greater amount of GDF-11 than adipose or bone marrow stem cells. This is important because GDF-11 is a cytokine that stimulates the production of collagen and elastin. GDF-11 also attracts human dermal fibroblasts (i.e. healthy skin cells) that then, in turn, produce their own collagen and elastin. These substances make skin healthy, elastic, vibrant, plump, and full.
Given the remarkable amounts of GDF-11 that umbilical cord-derived stem cells produced, the researchers decided to conduct a clinical trial to test the effect of these cells on aging skin. The scientists created a cream that contained the substances produced by the stem cells, including exosomes and beneficial proteins. The women who volunteered for the study applied the cream to their faces once per day. Within 2 to 4 weeks, the women had increased skin density (i.e. thickness/fullness) and substantially reduced wrinkles, especially around the eyes. Moreover, treatment with the stem cell-derived cream did not cause irritation, stinging, or any other adverse reaction.
This clinical study will need to be repeated in larger numbers of volunteers; however, the results are quite remarkable. Researchers were able to collect stem cells from umbilical cord tissue and prepare a cosmetic that reversed some of the signs of facial aging. Conveniently, this treatment did not require injections but could be applied topically. If future research confirms this work, treatment with a cosmetic/cosmeceutical made from umbilical cord stem cells could be a painless way to achieve facial skin rejuvenation.
Reference: Kim, YJ. (2018). Conditioned media from human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells stimulate rejuvenation function in human skin. Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports. 2018 Oct 25;16:96-102.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract but mostly affects the small and large intestines. People with Crohn’s disease often have inflammation of the large bowel (Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease or IBD). This colitis causes abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, along with bleeding and infections in the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s disease can interfere with a person’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to malnutrition and weight loss.
The standard medical treatment for Crohn’s disease involves one or more powerful drugs. When the disease flares up, patients usually must take steroids either orally or intravenously. They may also receive disease-modifying therapy such as immunomodulators and biologic medications. Many patients do enjoy remission once they receive these powerful drugs; however, side effects can be difficult to tolerate. Patients who cannot tolerate these powerful drugs or do not achieve disease remission may have to take steroids every day. Chronic steroid use has many severe and sometimes permanent side effects. If these treatments fail, patients may need to have surgery to remove a portion of their intestines that have been damaged by Crohn’s disease.
In an effort to find safe and effective treatments for Crohn’s disease, researchers have been testing stem cells in laboratory animals. In one study, scientists used a chemical to cause colon inflammation (colitis) in mice. This chemical causes many of the symptoms of humans with Crohn’s disease experience such as diarrhea, tissue damage, and weight loss. The researchers then treated some of the mice with mesenchymal stem cells gathered from human fat tissue (adipose) to see if stem cells could improve the symptoms.
Remarkably, human stem cell treatment reduced diarrhea, inflammation, and disease severity in mice with colitis. The chemical colitis caused mice to lose approximately 15 to 20% of their body weight. Mice that received stem cell treatment regained most of the weight they had lost. Researchers also noted that mice treated with adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells lived significantly longer than those that did not receive stem cell treatment.
Of course, this research was performed in laboratory animals, but it lays important groundwork for testing in humans. Indeed, since the publication of this report, researchers have been able to show that adipose-derived stem cells helped patients with Crohn’s disease. This exciting work will no doubt lead to future studies that may help pave the way to wider use of stem cells in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease.
Reference: Gonzalez, M. (2009). Adipose-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Alleviate Experimental Colitis by Inhibiting Inflammatory and Autoimmune Responses. Gastroenterology. Volume 136, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 978-989
Progressive supranuclear palsy, also known as PSP, is a disorder of the brain that gets worse over time (progressive neurodegenerative disorder). Many progressive supranuclear palsy symptoms are similar to Parkinson’s disease. These include rigidity, slowness of movement, cognitive (thinking) problems, difficulty speaking, and difficulty swallowing. While people with Parkinson’s disease can have an unsteady gait and “freeze,” these symptoms are much more prominent in people with progressive supranuclear palsy. Likewise, people with PSP have a particular eye problem called supranuclear gaze palsy, which causes PSP patients to have difficulty moving their eyes in certain directions.
Despite the similarities between PSP and Parkinson’s disease, there are no treatments for progressive supranuclear palsy as they are for Parkinson’s disease. Drugs like levodopa help reduce tremors and rigidity in people with Parkinson’s, but they have been largely ineffective in people with PSP. Some PSP patients may benefit from drugs like levodopa, but most experience severe visual hallucinations or other side effects, which causes them to stop the medication. Because there are so few treatments, patients with progressive supranuclear palsy rely on supportive care measures such as occupational and physical therapy, nutritional support, and palliative care.
To address this critical need, researchers are testing mesenchymal stem cells for their ability to treat progressive supranuclear palsy. Dr. Margherita Canesi and her colleagues selected five patients with progressive supranuclear palsy. Her research team used bone marrow from healthy volunteers to select healthy mesenchymal stem cells. The researchers then infused the mesenchymal stem cells into patients in a single infusion.
While patients with PSP normally deteriorate rapidly, the patients who received a single stem cell treatment remained stable for at least six months after treatment. Some patients still maintained function at the end of the study (12 months). All patients tolerated the treatment well, there were no major side effects. While the study was small, it suggests that stem cell treatment was able to change the natural course of the disease. Based on these encouraging results, the authors have set their sights on a randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 study to further test mesenchymal stem cell treatments in patients with progressive supranuclear palsy. We look forward to their results with great enthusiasm.
Reference: Canesi, M. et al. (2016). Finding a new therapeutic approach for no-option Parkinsonisms: mesenchymal stromal cells for progressive supranuclear palsy. Journal of Translational Medicine. 14, Article number: 127 (2016).