Great Promise Lies Ahead for New Lifesaving Technologies

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Research into the effectiveness of stem cell and immunotherapy treatments for a wide range of chronic diseases is producing optimistic, if not yet proven, results. According to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, “there’s no limit to the types of diseases that could be treated with stem cell research. Given that researchers may be able to study all cell types via embryonic stem cells, they have the potential to make breakthroughs in any disease.” In recent year’s stem cell-based therapies have been initiated but the results of those trials may take several years of testing and study to render the treatments safe and effective.

Physicians at Emory Orthopedics & Spine Center in Atlanta are among a select group of physicians around the country to offer Stem Cell therapy and other regenerative medical therapies for the relief of osteoarthritis (OA) pain and chronic tendonitis. The non-surgical procedure uses the patient’s own stem cells taken from the body and injected into the effected joint or tendon to repair damaged tissue. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the U.S., affecting nearly 27 million adults. At other medical centers around the country, skin stem cells have been used to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns on very large areas of the body. Only a few clinical centers are able to carry out this treatment and it is usually reserved for patients with life-threatening burns. In Europe a new stem-cell-based treatment to repair damage to the cornea after an injury like a chemical burn, has received conditional marketing approval.

Blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow were the first stem cells to be identified. This life-saving technique has helped thousand’s  worldwide who had been suffering from blood cancers, such as leukemia. In addition to their current use in cancer treatments, research suggests that bone marrow transplants will be useful in treating autoimmune diseases and in helping people tolerate transplanted organs.

Autologous, stem cells harvested from the same person who will get the transplant, and Allogeneic stem cells that come from a matched related or unrelated donor are the two main types of treatments currently approved for use. Combined with very high doses of chemotherapy, and often radiation therapy, the combined treatment has been shown to kill cancer cells in the patient’s bone marrow. Given by transfusion, the transplanted stem cells replace those that were destroyed. This application is among the most widely used stem cell treatment used to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system.

In England, researchers have made exciting new findings that could offer a means of fighting resistance to treatment for people with esophageal cancer. Resistance to radiotherapy is a major stumbling block in the treatment of this cancer. The team of scientists, which incorporated specialists from Trinity, St. James’s Hospital Dublin, the Coombe Women and Infant’s University Hospital and the University of Hull in the UK, have published their significant findings in the international peer-reviewed journal Oncotarget. “This work is extremely important in understanding why tumors are inherently resistant to radiotherapy, and how they can acquire resistance. Our findings strongly suggest that it is the cancer stem cell population that we need to destroy if treatment is going to be effective in our esophageal cancer patients,” said Dr Maher.

Doctors in London say they have cured two babies of leukemia in the world’s first attempt to treat cancer with genetically engineered immune cells from a donor. The experiments, which took place at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, raise the possibility of off-the-shelf cellular therapy using inexpensive supplies of universal cells that could be dripped into patients’ veins on a moment’s notice. The infants, ages 11 and 16 months, each had leukemia and had undergone previous treatments that failed, according to a description of their cases published in Science Translational Medicine. Waseem Qasim, a physician and gene-therapy expert who led the tests, reported that both children remain in remission.

In the United States, China and around the world, scientists are racing to apply gene editing, stem cell and other immunotherapy treatments to provide improved treatments for cancer and other diseases. Utilizing the current path to approval it will be years before the new discoveries become commonplace, but the research must continue to advance if we are to realize the benefits of new lifesaving technologies.

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