A Coming Stem Cell Treatment Revolution?

2009-01-31 | |
Last updated: 2009-01-31

The recent announcement that stem cells could be used as a possible means of ‘resetting’ the immune system in patients with Multiple Sclerosis is very promising news that could have wide-ranging repercussions that may extend well beyond the treatment of MS.

Immune system diseases such as Multiple Schlerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Diabetes, Lupus, Guillain-Barre syndrome and many others are based on the immune system incorrectly identifying parts of our own bodies as something that should not be there. The immune system then attacks what it thinks is a foreign body or infection and the result is damage to and ultimately destruction of the specific incorrectly identified tissues.

The study performed at Northwestern University in Chicago from 2001 to 2008 focused on MS patients and this is a good place to start given the severity of damage that this disease causes. However, since many of the largely incurable autoimmune diseases are based on the immune system incorrectly identifying and remembering specific tissues as an ‘invader’, an approach that resets the immune system may be effective for many of the autoimmune diseases.

The treatment that has been developed involves severely supressing the patient’s immune system and using the patient’s own stem cells, extracted from bone marrow, to replace some of the cells that are part of the immune system. Stem cells inherently have the ability to transform into other forms of cells so much of the ‘magic’ of this approach is likely related to this ability of the stem cells. Some of the stem cells become part of the immune system and others works to rebuild the damaged central nervous system.

It is important to note that should this form of treatment be applicable to other autoimmune diseases, it will likely be most effective in stopping the progression of disease or restoring some function when the diseases are in their early phases. Once the disease has caused more large scale tissue damage, such techniques will not likely be as effective since the stem cells are not simply replacing missing cells, but would have to rebuild whole tissue structures. While this would not benefit those with later stage disease, it might still stabilize their condition and prevent further degradation.

The fruits of all the research into stem cell usage in disease treatment are just starting to be publicized and a wave of clinical trials for various diseases is likely on the near horizon. If we are indeed in for a revolution in the fight against oppressive autoimmune diseases, “Viva la resistance!!!”.

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