Stem cells are key building blocks for the human body. At the start of life, they divide over and over again to create a fully developed baby from an embryo. Many individuals now even turn to services that store and preserve umbilical cords should a person ever be in need.
Stem cells have the potential to develop into different types of cells in the body, serving as a repair system of sorts for damaged or lost cells. In recent decades, scientists have shown the miraculous ways of medicine through stem cell treatments.
So just how are doctors using stem cells to treat and help heal people battling various ailments? Here’s a look at five studies published on StudyFinds that demonstrate the wondrous ways of stem cell treatments.
Could end need for transplant in kids with rare heart condition
A heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, weakens muscles of the ventricles, which causes heart failure and often death in children. Currently, the only cure is a heart transplant, which can take long periods of time to find an acceptable donor and increases the risk of rejection of the donor tissue. One study finds that stem cell therapy could help DCM patients survive longer while awaiting a transplant — or potentially eliminate the need for a new heart entirely.
Cardiac stem cells called cardiosphere-derived cells (CDCs) have proven to be effective at treating certain heart conditions. The CDCs grow into tissue cells of the heart and can counter the effects of DCM. To test the safety of the CDC therapy, a team of scientists at Okayama University in Japan demonstrated the efficacy of CDCs in tissue damaged from DCM. For the study, DCM symptoms were induced in pigs, after which CDCs were administered in various doses for treatment. In a control group, some pigs were given a placebo.
Results showed thickening of the heart muscle in pigs who were given the stem cell treatment. This allows increased blood flow to the rest of the body, thereby effectively repairing the damaged tissue. Due to the dosage used in animal trials, researchers could estimate the proper dosage for human trials.
The first of these included 5 younger patients who were diagnosed with DCM. Injections of CDCs resulted in better heart function without any serious side effects. Thus, scientists believe this type of treatment could minimize the need for heart transplants and allow DCM patients to have normal lives.
READ MORE: Stem cell treatment shows promise as treatment for rare heart condition in children
Umbilical cord stem cells raise survival chances of COVID patients
Although their use is sometimes controversial, scientists often look at stem cells as a potential miracle cure for many conditions. One study finds stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord may save the most at risk of dying from COVID-19. A treatment derived from non-altered versions of these stem cells significantly improves the survival rate among coronavirus patients already on a ventilator.
In a double-blind, controlled, randomized study, 40 adult patients in intensive care and on a ventilator received the treatment intravenously. The infusions contained stem cells coming from the connective tissue of a human umbilical cord. Half of the patients received infusions not containing stem cells to serve as a control group.
Results reveal survival rates climbed by 2.5 times among patients receiving stem cells. Those with a pre-existing health problem, making them high-risk for COVID, saw their changes of beating coronavirus jump by 4.5 times. Moreover, the study says the stem cell infusions did not cause any life-threatening complications or allergic reactions.
READ MORE: Stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord doubles survival chances among COVID patients
Cardiac stem cells reverse aging, fight heart disease
In the fight against heart disease, a new super-weapon is now even closer to deployment, and its capabilities are turning out to be beyond expectations. A study aimed at combating heart disease finds that stem cells are not only showing promise in treating heart failure, but in rats are actually reversing problems associated with old age.
The specific type of stem cells used in the study are cardiosphere-derived cells, or CDCs. While the latest research involving CDCs indicates possibilities that have previously been in the realm of science fiction, the scientists leading the charge urge restraint in face of the excitement.
Nevertheless, the latest results of stem cell infusions in rats are startling. Not only did rats that received the CDCs experience improved heart function, they also had lengthened heart cell telomeres. Moreover, the rats that received the treatment also had their exercise capacity increase by about 20 percent. They also regrew hair faster than rats that didn’t receive the cells.
Still, the doctors and scientists working to push the frontier of medicine forward are very optimistic about the real possibilities of the therapy. Researchers of the study said they are also studying the use of stem cells in treating patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and patients with “heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, a condition that affects more than 50 percent of all heart failure patients.”
READ MORE: Study: Cardiac stem cell injections reverse effects of aging
Cure for lower back pain?
A new biomaterial can help regenerate tissue in people dealing with chronic lower back pain and spinal issues. A recent study finds the secret to this breakthrough therapy is all in the “hiPS.” Not those hips, but human induced pluripotent stem cells.
The study explains that a common cause of lower back pain is the degeneration of intervertebral discs (IVDs). These discs sit between the vertebrae in the spine and help give the spinal column its flexibility. Severe IVD degeneration eventually leads to spinal deformity without treatment. In this study, scientists used cartilage tissue derived from stem cells to build back lost IVDs in lab rats.
Study authors used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) during their experiments. Importantly, scientists are capable of turning iPSCs into chondrocytes — cells that produce and maintain cartilage. Previous studies have successfully used this same method to treat cartilage defects in animals. In the new study, researchers created human iPSC-derived cartilaginous tissue (hiPS-Cart) that they implanted into rats with no NP cells in their intervertebral discs.
Findings reveal that the hiPS-Cart implanted in the rats was able to survive and be maintained. IVD and vertebral bone degeneration were prevented. The researchers also assessed the mechanics and found that hiPS-Cart was able to revert these properties to similar levels observed in the control rats.
READ MORE: Stem cell cure for lower back pain is all in the ‘hiPS’
Eye stem cells could cure blindness
Stem cells taken from deceased patients may also help in creating a cure for blindness. Retina cells from a corpse continue to survive after being transplanted into the eyes of monkeys, scientists say.
RPE dysfunction is a leading cause of blindness, including causing disorders like macular degeneration, which affects around 200 million people worldwide. Now, for the first time, scientists have successfully produced retina cells in monkeys using human stem cells. Human cadaver donor-derived cells can be safely transplanted underneath the retina and replace host function, and therefore may be a promising source for rescuing vision in patients with retina diseases.
For the study, researchers transplanted stem cells from the eyes of donated bodies under the monkey’s macula, the central part of the retina. Following surgery, the transplanted patches remained stable for at least three months without any serious side-effects. The RPE created by the human stem cells partially took over from the old retina cells. In addition, this could successfully support the eye’s light receptors without causing retinal scarring.
These unique cells could serve as an “unlimited resource” of human RPE, which may restore sight for millions of people around the world. The scientists caution that they will need to conduct more research to see how the procedure works with human transplant patients. Human trials are still a long way off.
READ MORE: Eye stem cells transplanted from corpses to live patients could cure blindness
For more information on each of these stem cell treatments, you can refer to the “READ MORE” links in between each section.