Stanford Discovery To Make Stem Cell Transplants Risk Free
In using stem cells to treat autoimmune disease, patients first need to be stripped of their malfunctioning immune system. This is inevitably risky, but scientists at Standford have discovered a new technique that could eliminate these dangers and make stem cell transplants much safer.
There’s no doubt that stem cell transplants offer an incredibly effective way to treat autoimmune disease. Numerous studies and accounts are demonstrating their potential against everything from multiple sclerosis and type I diabetes, to rheumatoid arthritis and Huntington’s disease.
Yet in the hierarchy of treatments in our hospitals today, stem cell transplants are generally only considered as a last resort.
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, your immune system turns against the body, attacking its own vital cells, tissues, and organs. This change in behavior, in which cells fail to distinguish between those that are good and those that are harmful, arises from problems at a genetic level. Therefore, to treat autoimmune disease doctors must first completely wipe the malfunctioning immune cells from the body and repopulate it with healthy ones.
Doctors are reluctant to carry out stem cell transplants, because stripping an already compromised patient of their immune system is obviously dangerous. Indeed, around 20 percent of patients die from this part of the procedure, and so the full benefits of stem cells transplants have far from been realised.
But the new technique developed by researchers at Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine could change this. Their study shows that it is actually possible to remove a defective immune system in a completely risk-free way.
Resetting And Restoring The Immune System
“If and when this is accomplished, it will be a whole new era in disease treatment and regenerative medicine” —Irving Weissman, Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
Unfortunately, chemotherapy and radiation not only gets rid of the cells we don’t want, it also causes immediate lasting damage to tissues in the body — including liver damage, reproductive organ failure, and impaired neurological development.
Published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the Stanford scientists explain how they’ve developed antibodies which target and latch onto faulty immune cells, marking them as harmful and then disposing of them with cells known as macrophages whose job it is to “eat” harmful material.
In this way, the treatment to reset the immune system causes little to no damage to healthy cells, like in radiation therapy, and provides a clean slate for stem cells to be transplanted to form a new, fully functioning immune system.
The technique has currently only been proven in animal models, but the Stanford scientists are hopeful it will be just as effective in humans.
“If it works in humans like it did in mice, we would expect that the risk of death from blood stem cell transplant would drop from 20 per cent to effectively zero,” —Dr Judith Shizuru, professor of medicine at Stanford.
Any disease caused by a patient’s own blood or immune cells, including blood cancers, could benefit from this new development. The technique allows stem cell transplants to be used in a much safer way, and, according to Stanford, could lead to thousands of patients being cured of debilitating diseases by means of a one-off stem cell transplant.
Visit our website today to find out how you can safeguard your children’s future health by storing stem cells from their milk teeth.