Stem Cell Therapies Offer Hope Where Little Existed

From advances in the treatment of multiple sclerosis to paralysis to congestive heart failure, scientists, physicians and patients are now seeing possibilities where few to none previously existed. Many of these advances remain in the research stages with an eye toward acceptance as treatments in the near future.

Traumatic Paralysis Effects Reversed with Stem Cell Therapy

Kristopher Boesen of Bakersfield, California was 20-years-old in March 2016 when he had a traffic accident that injured his cervical spine. His parents were told that in all likelihood, Kristopher would be paralyzed from the neck down as a result of his injuries. A ray of hope was offered to them and their son: The possibility of qualifying for a clinical study that sought to treat spinal injuries with stem cells.

Boesen enrolled in the clinical trial, a multi-center research study being undertaken by the Keck Medical Center of USC and the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Charles Liu, M.D. and director of the USC Neurorestoration Center at the Keck Medical Center, led the surgical team that injected 10 million AST-OPC1 stem cells directly into Boesen’s cervical spine in April 2016.

Within two weeks of the experimental treatment, Boesen began to show signs of recovery; within three months Boesen regained significant use of his hands and arms, allowing him to use a cell phone, feed himself, write his name and use a motorized wheelchair. The young man has both improved sensation and movement in his upper extremities since the treatment – something that makes the difference in both his quality of life and ability to have some independence.

Dr. Lui explained the intent of the clinical study and the use of the stem cells in the treatment of what is usually irreversible loss of both sensation and function:

“With this study, we are testing a procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands. Restoring that level of function could significantly improve the daily lives of patients with severe spinal injuries.”

Kristopher Boesen, who continues to work his rehabilitation program, said of the clinical trial, “All I’ve wanted from the beginning was a fighting chance. But if there’s a chance for me to walk again, then heck yeah! I want to do anything possible to do that.”

The doctors involved in the clinical trial are careful not to predict what, if any, additional recovery Boesen may yet make, but feel the stem cell treatment proved its value both for Boesen and for future patients with paralysis.

Will Stem Cell Therapy Turn the Tide for Non-Treatable Heart Failure?

Through a $10 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, Dr. Michael Zile, cardiologist, is directing a trial at the Medical University of South Carolina to determine if heart stem cell therapy that worked in the lab to restore function to unhealthy heart cells will do the same in humans.

Heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction, HFpEF, a condition more common in women than men, more severe in African Americans than other races, and seen more often in veterans than non-veterans due to co-existing conditions, is currently a diagnosis without a treatment. As Zile explained:

“I’ve had to look patients in the eye and say, ‘You have a deadly disease that’s going to kill you and limit your ability to live your life, and I have very little that will improve your symptoms and nothing that will keep you from being hospitalized or dying from this.”

In HFpEF, the heart muscle becomes stiff, unable then to do its job of relaxing between heart contractions. As a result, the ventricles are unable to fill with blood to pump out to the body, resulting in diastolic heart failure. The heart’s muscle cells may be missing an important component, which the stem cells, taken from the muscle tissue of donor hearts, replace, restoring the health and function of the heart muscle – at least in theory and in the lab. In this clinical study, the healthy stem cells from the donor will be injected directly into the patient’s heart muscle with the intent that the healthy cells will re-program the recipient’s own poorly-functioning heart muscle cells.

The MUSC study, termed the Regress HFpEF study, hopes to enroll 40 participants from both MUSC, veterans, and patients at other health centers. Zile explains that the study team isn’t interested in taking patients away from the physicians from whom they are already familiar and comfortable, but to invite them into the study from where they are currently located.

If effective, the new stem cell treatment for HFpEF has the potential to offer hope to millions of people with the condition. Currently, about five million people in the United States have been diagnosed with heart failure; about half of those with HfpEF.

Burn Patients Heal Quickly With Use of Own Stem Cells Delivered by Skin Gun

In an exciting development in the treatment of burns and other extensive skin wounds, a New York-based biotech company, RenovaCare, has developed a gun-like apparatus for the quick and uniform application of a patient’s own stem cells to the burn or wound area, speeding up the healing process.

Skin grafts, the standard and traditional method of treating severe burns, can take weeks and even longer to be effective. RenovaCare’s skin gun, delivering the patient’s stem cells to the affected area, speeds up the healing process to mere days, reducing the chances of infection and the loss of body fluids through the burns/wounds because of the rapid healing. Gone, too, are the open areas of skin from which the skin grafts were taken, or the chance of rejection if the skin grafts came from an outside host.

Stem Cell Treatment in Clinical Trials Helped Patients with Multiple Sclerosis

There are four different disease courses or types recognized in multiple sclerosis: clinically isolated syndrome; relapsing-remitting MS; primary progressive MS and secondary progressive MS. Secondary progressive MS follows relapsing-remitting MS, the diagnosis initially given when multiple sclerosis is diagnosed 85 percent of the time.

An innovative treatment was developed for secondary progressive MS and its resultant debilitation by a team of researchers in Canada headed by Dr. Harry Atkins of the Ottawa Hospital that combined the used of chemotherapy to suppress the patient’s immune system after first harvesting that person’s stem cells.

After the immune system suppression, the person’s stem cells, which had been frozen, were then transplanted back into the patient, the underlying thought being that multiple sclerosis is a malfunction of the immune system. The Phase II trial of the experimental methods had 24 total study participants. Of those participants, 70 percent experienced either a halt in the progression of their symptoms or experienced a reverse of symptoms; 30 percent experienced no change in their symptoms or the progression of the disease process. All study participants were followed for 13 years after the treatment. One person died as a result of the experimental treatment.

Jennifer Molson, of the study participants, experienced a complete reversal of her secondary progressive MS symptoms, and improved from being a totally dependent person confined to a nursing home for her care to an independent young woman, giving birth to a child and resuming her life as before her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

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