A mother of two beautiful children, Lucie Clark was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while she was slowing losing her eyesight and ability to walk.
Are stem cells the future of medicine?
Every day, there is a new story stating how stem cells saved the life of patients suffering from various medical conditions. In the last two decades, researchers have discovered various clinical potential of stem cells in treating genetic, immunologic, neurodegenerative and blood related conditions. Many international scientists believe that stem cells could be the future of medicine because of its regenerative and healing effects which can be personalized based on the patients’ needs.
Though there are challenges, stem cell therapy is an emerging field of medicine that shows positive advances through various human clinical trials. Stem cells changed the landscape of medicine with a new approach – regenerative medicine and have a promising future for patients suffering from medical conditions that currently lack successful standard treatments.
Stem cells are generally used for four types of clinical applications. They are:
- Stem cell transplants -The stem cells retrieved from umbilical cord and bone marrow can be processed and injected back into the patient’s body so that the stem cells can form other blood cells. This will also restore the patient’s immune system and build the capacity to fight against diseases.
- Tissue regeneration – Stem cells can regenerate the damage tissue and restore the lost function in the body and hence used in regenerative medicine.
- Cellular therapies – The stem cells present in the patient’s body can be reprogrammed or new cells can be artificially produced to replace the damaged cells and tissue.
- Discovery of new drugs – Stem cells can be manipulated to recreate human models to test the efficacy and safety of new drugs without actual human trials.
Stem Cells In Clinical Trials
Stem cell treatment has not been approved as a standard clinical therapy as there aren’t enough clinical studies and research available to prove the efficacy of stem cells. Stem cell studies are evolving and many clinical trials are in preliminary phases, thus it requires time to establish the therapeutic potentials of stem cells in clinic level.
Currently, various stem cell clinical trials are going on across the world involving patients suffering from medical conditions such as leukemias, myelomas, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, SCID, sickle cell disease etc. There are 3 phases to clinical trials: Phase I involves small trial with around 30 patients and 70% of new drugs pass through this trial and move to the next phase. Phase 2 is often larger with more than 50 patients and if the results are better than the existing treatment for the targeted medical condition, it enters the last phase. In the 3rd phase, the new treatment/drug is tested among thousands of patients in different hospitals and in different countries.
In recent times, many patients volunteer for cancer trials using stem cell treatment along with a combination of new drugs or chemotherapy. There are many stem cell clinical trials conducted to find cure for various medical conditions, some of which are:
Cancer – About 80% of the stem cell clinical trials across the world are focussed on improving the treatment for leukemia and other forms of cancer using blood forming stem cells. Most of these clinical studies involve chemotherapy and donor bone marrow stem cells. In recent years, umbilical cord stem cells are also preferred for the trials. Although there are limitations, stem cell therapy with chemotherapy is found to be an effective therapeutic approach for leukemias and other blood related cancers.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Currently, there are many trials that involve umbilical cord tissue stem cells, bone marrow stem cells, umbilical cord blood stem cells, spinal cord derived neural stem cells and adipose tissue stem cells for the treatment of ALS. Most of the ALS clinical trials are active and in early phase.
Cerebral Palsy- This neurological disorder affects the normal life and development of kids. There are around 13 clinical trials conducted using stem cells for the treatment of this condition and currently Duke University in North Carolina is conducting a trial for Cerebral Palsy using patient’s own umbilical cord stem cells.
AIDS – Gene therapy combined stem cell transplant technique is used in clinical trials for HIV affected patients. Recently, researchers from Spain announced a revolutionary HIV clinical trial for AIDS treatment. There are also several other clinical trials underway in different parts of the world to control the effects of HIV in humans.
Multiple Myeloma- Autologous stem cell trials are going on in various parts of United States and other countries to combat Multiple Myeloma, a form of cancer that affects the white blood cells of bone marrow. Most of these trials employ stem cell transplant along with a combination of drugs to treat the condition in patients.
Other Conditions – There are clinical trials going on for Arthritis, Autism, vision impairment, Diabetes, Kidney and liver disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Heart diseases, Lupus, Crohn’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, spinal injury, stroke, graft versus host disease, Huntington’s, infertility, knee and back pain.
In few years, the results of these ongoing clinical trials shall provide a clear picture of how stem cells can effectively treat various medical conditions that remain as challenges in the present day and transform the lives of patients affected by them. That day, we can very well call stem cells as the future of medicine.