Stem Cell Science Keeps Making Progress

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The following article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the MCFL News magazine, a perk of membership mailed out quarterly to all members.

It wasn't that long ago that embryonic stem cells were touted as lifesaving research that merited funding with billions of taxpayer dollars. Pro-life objections to the destruction of human embryos were categorized as cold-hearted, anti-science sentimentality. Then, in 2007, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka discovered a way to reprogram adult cells to act as embryonic cells. Called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), Yamanaka's discovery made the destructive science virtually obsolete. There is still not a single validated case of lifesaving results with embryonic stem cells.

Dr. David Prentice, Vice President and Research Director for the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), reports that over 1.5 million people have been treated with adult stem cells, resulting in lives saved and health improved for dozens of diseases and medical conditions. Prentice said, “Within the past year there have been many advances in adult stem cell science, including new strategies and advances using adult stem cells to treat stroke, even years after the stroke event; multiple sclerosis, putting people into remission, not just stopping progression of the disease; and improving repair of both knee joints as well as damaged hearts.”

 

Stem cells are unspecialized cells that give rise to other cells that are capable of becoming more differentiated cell types in the body, such as skin cells, muscle cells, or nerve cells. They comprise the natural repair mechanism for tissues in the human body. Adult stem cells can come from several places: pregnancy-related tissues such as the umbilical cord, placentas and amniotic fluid; body tissues such as bone marrow, fat, or blood; or from cadavers. Embryonic stem cells come from harvesting cells from the inner cell mass of an early embryo, the blastocyst. Harvesting these cells requires destruction of an embryonic human being.

CLI reports that nearly 70,000 adult stem cell transplants were performed worldwide with nearly 20,000 adult stem cell transplants performed in the United States in 2014 alone. More than 30,000 umbilical cord blood transplants in patients were performed. Patients in 75 countries worldwide had undergone adult stem cell transplants.

“Currently, there are nearly 3,500 ongoing or completed clinical trials using adult stem cells, with at least 73 conditions that were being treated by adult stem cell transplants,” says CLI. “Peer-reviewed, scientific publications have documented therapeutic success using adult stem cells in clinical trials for dozens of conditions, including, for example: heart damage, stroke, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, retinal/optic nerve disease, and systemic lupus.”

“For many conditions, including multiple myeloma and leukemias, adult stem cell transplants have moved beyond clinical trials to become standard medical practice for these patients. HSCT (also known as blood and bone marrow transplant) is most often used to treat diseases of the blood and several types of cancer such as multiple myeloma or leukemia. For many people with these diseases, the only possibility of a cure is to have a HSCT.”

 Successful research includes an experimental procedure at Duke University in North Carolina to treat cerebral palsy which impacts as many as 10,000 newborns each year. Children with cerebral palsy are being infused with their own cord blood stem cells to heal and repair damaged brain tissue.

Recently the Charlotte Lozier Institute released its seventh in a series of videos: “Stem Cell Research Facts,” which updated the life of lupus survivor Jackie Stollfus. Diagnosed with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus at the age of 21, Stollfus suffered organ damage and debilitating pain. Jackie Stollfus and her husband wanted to have children. However, complications from the disease caused her to miscarry.

Stollfus was treated by Dr. Richard Burt at the Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, who has been successfully treating a variety of autoimmune diseases with adult stem cell transplants. After harvesting and storing her bone marrow adult stem cells, chemotherapy removed from them the autoimmune cells that caused the lupus. The stem cells were then injected back into her body with a repaired immune system that would not attack her own organs.

Seven years later, Stollfus is healthy and remains free from lupus. The video reports, “Jackie is extremely active, especially in chasing after her two little girls, Tenley and Taryn.'Adult stem cells saved my life, gave me a chance to have a life, gave me that chance to be a mom,' says Jackie. She says given the chance, she would do it all over again.”

More of Dr. Burt's successful work is highlighted on another video in the CLI series. Bryan Hinkle was suffering from tingling and numbness in his legs, fatigue, and excruciating pain. He was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease known as Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP). With medication, Hinkle controlled the pain and the CIDP symptoms for many years. He eventually suffered a severe relapse and lost almost all of the feeling in his legs and feet, requiring a wheelchair for mobility.

Hinkle's treatment for CIDP resembled that for Jackie Stollfus. Healthy adult stem cells were harvested, then chemotherapy killed off the damaging autoimmune cells. Afterwards, the healthy cells were injected back into his body.

“The results were positive and almost immediate,” the CLI video notes. “Within two days he felt the cold tile of a bathroom floor, something he never thought he’d experience again. That sensation paled in comparison to what was coming in the weeks ahead. Feeling and mobility returned to his legs and feet and he began walking again.

“Today Bryan leads a happy, healthy normal life thanks to an adult stem cell discovery that’s changing the face of regenerative medicine and giving men and women real hope in their fight against dozens of diseases and conditions. 'I’m a year post-transplant and I sometimes have to wake up and I ask myself, is this really my life? I’ve regained my independence. I’m helping take care of my children, you know. I’m being the husband and the father, that I dreamt about not too long ago. And for that, I’m just thankful--thankful and amazed.'”

“Lost Memories, Opening Doors” recounts how Dr. Burt's insight into the potential of adult stem cells led to treatment for autoimmune diseases. “While working at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Dr. Burt noticed that the leukemia patients needed to be re-vaccinated because the protection from childhood diseases like the measles and mumps was being lost. The cells impacted by transfusion treatments were losing the 'memory' of these original childhood vaccinations. Dr. Burt wondered if it were possible to get bad, diseased cells to lose their memory, then perhaps they could be reprogrammed with ‘good’ memories and help patients with autoimmune diseases.” Healthy adult stem cells would do the reprogramming. 

After successfully trying his idea on animals in the research lab, FDA approval led to an effective treatment for multiple sclerosis. Fourteen years later, Burt and his team of researchers at Northwestern University are using this technique to help treat patients suffering from some 23 different diseases.

“Adult stem cell therapy is ongoing in centers around the world,” says Dr. Burt. “So it’s turned out to be very rewarding. Very rewarding to see people coming back and see how much they’ve improved. And very rewarding that other centers are doing it. There’s an old adage that success has many fathers, failures and orphans. So the very fact that this is now being done around the world--in South America, Asia, Europe, and here in America--it just means that I’ve helped, in some small way, to change this world.”

Amy Daniels is another of Dr. Burt's grateful patients. Daniels suffered from systemic scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. It's a painful and potentially fatal disease that stiffens the skin and appears to turn the sufferer's body to stone. Today Daniels lives a normal, healthy life with her husband and two daughters.

“We are in the midst of a revolution in cancer medicine right now,” says Dr. Joseph McGuirk of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, who has been treating cancer patients for 27 years. “Every day is an exciting day,” he declares. Chance Runnion, one of Dr. McGuirk's patients, can attest to that. His video tells the story of his battle with leukemia and the adult stem cell transplant that left him free of the disease.

CLI reports, “Dr. McGuirk remembers a time when most patients who came to his clinic with Chance's form of cancer, died in a relatively short period of time. Today, he says, more than half of them will live, thanks to adult stem cell transplants. Still, Dr. McGuirk knows that there is much more to be done, and that the promise of adult stem cells is not close to being exhausted.”

Has the word that adult stem cells outperform embryonic stem cells reached the public? Gene Tarne, Senior Analyst for CLI, said that the research world has taken notice resulting in an almost complete absence of clinical trials using human embryonic stem cells. “In 2013, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) – the nation’s largest funder of stem cell research outside of the federal government – authorized a new program, the Alpha Stem Cell Clinics Network,” Tarne said.

“The Network’s goal, 'is to accelerate the development and delivery of stem cell treatments to patients.' To achieve this, CIRM approved $70 million 'to create a new statewide network of sites that will act as a hub for stem cell clinical trials.' CIRM’s website lists 36 ongoing clinical trials at the three Alpha Clinic locations. Of the 36 ongoing Alpha Clinic clinical trials, just two utilize human embryonic stem cells.”

Paul Wagle, advisor on the Board of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center Advisory Board and an associate scholar with CLI, has personally experienced the life-saving power of adult stem cells. Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of ten, he endured a four-year battle with the disease that included an adult stem cell transplant. Wagle has been cancer-free for ten years and discussed the importance of promoting ethical approaches to medical research.

“The reality is that research funds are limited,” Wagle says in his video. “We need to be good stewards and get the biggest bang for our buck by supporting science with proven track records. Those are the treatments that will make the biggest difference in the lives of patients who face life-threatening illnesses.

“Not only is adult stem cell research more effective, it is also moral. Human embryos are not harmed in adult stem cell research. If you want to support effective and ethical research, then you should support adult stem cell research. At the end of the day, adult stem cell research saves lives, it does not sacrifice them.”

 The entire Charlotte Lozier Institute video series is available at: stemcellresearch facts.org. The site provides a wealth of information on stem cell basics, ongoing research, and inspirational stories. CLI’s website: lozierinstitute.org includes a detailed informational section entitled “Stem Cells and Therapies.”

Photo: Nissim Benvenisty. CC-BY-2.5.

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