Learn more about where the field of cell therapy is today - and where we'll be tomorrow.
High sugar in the blood caused by diabetes has a many long-term damaging effects on vision, the kidneys, and the heart among other issues. It primarily effects children and adolescents with 40,000 new cases per year.
Heart disease refers to a variety of problems in the heart, including clogged arteries, heart attacks, and thickening of the heart walls, which lead to decreased function. It is the leading cause of death in the US and the number of hearts available for transplant is dwarfed by the need.
Alzheimer’s disease is a disease where the structure of the brain breaks down leading to memory loss, problems with speech, movement disorders, and behavior changes. There are currently no treatments that can prevent or slow the progression of the disease. The largest risk factor is increasing age with 1 in 10 people over 65 having the disease.
Cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of cells and can occur anywhere in the body. There are 1.7 million new cases of cancer in the US each year and it is the second leading cause of death.
Macular degeneration is a disease affecting the eyes where the light-detecting part of the eye breaks down resulting in vision loss. Stem cells were recently used successfully in clinical trials in Japan and the United States to treat patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration and Stargardt's Macular Dystrophy. Scientists used stem cells to grow retinal cells, which they then transplanted into the eyes of patients. The majority of patients responded well to the treatment and showed improvement in visual function for both diseases.
An ongoing clinical trial in Australia is enrolling patients and testing injections of stem cell-derived neural cells to repair and regenerate the brain of Parkinson's patients. So far, animal studies, including those done with monkeys, have shown that these injections are safe, improve mental function, and can even regenerate lost brain tissue.
A company in San Diego is using stem cell-derived pancreas cells to replace β-islet cells in patients with type 1 diabetes. The cells are transplanted with a proprietary device that allows the cells to mature into β-islet cells that can produce insulin and other supporting cells. The device will protect the transplanted cells from destruction by the patient's immune system.
Current therapies for multiple sclerosis are lacking, but there is hope on the horizon. Several recent trials have found a benefit from patients receiving injection of their own blood stem cells. In one larger study, the stem cell therapy improved symptoms while patients receiving drug therapy alone worsened.
After a heart attack, new cells do not grow to replace the dead heart cells. Several stem cell therapies for heart failure are being studied, including one (Ixmyelocel-T) that was shown to reduce the number of adverse cardiac events by 37% in patients with advanced disease.
Cartilage has very little ability to regrow and as we age it breaks down leading to pain and limited mobility. CartistemⓇ is a stem cell therapy available in Korea for the treatment of knee cartilage defects. It was approved by the Korean FDA in 2012 and has over 7 years of follow-up in some patients who received the treatment. There are other groups in this space developing competing therapies.
A treatment approved in Canada for Graft-Versus-Host-Disease, ProchymalⓇ, is currently being tested in a Phase III double-blind clinical trial for its ability to improve symptoms of Crohn’s disease. This trial is especially exciting because the patients included have disease that is unresponsive to steroid, immunosuppressive, and biologic therapies, who are typically the sickest patient population.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and available therapies can only slow down the progression of symptoms by a few months to a year. Even though the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still being understood, there are a number of researchers studying the potential of stem cells to slow down its progression. One company is conducting a clinical trial of stem cells derived from a patient’s own fat and injecting them into a vein. Results from this exciting study will be released sometime next year.
Although great strides have been made in treating cancer, there are still too many people suffering with this disease. In 2017, the first two cell therapies for cancer were approved for treating cancers of the blood. These treatments can lead to remission of cancer of over 70% of patients with otherwise untreatable cancer. Current research is focused on applying this approach to cell therapy to the many other forms of cancer in the body.