Category Archives: Stem Cells

promises of stem cells

Stem Cell Therapy and Robitussin: Don’t Get Duped

Thoughts on Stem Cells and Robitussin: When a new medicine or product offers great hope, it also attracts attention from the dark, shadowy places of society. This is the case, to a degree, with stem cell research. While showing success and promise in areas like treating certain blood and auto immune diseases, the internet is now full of dubious healing power of stem cells.

After a recent google search for “stem cell therapy” revealed treatments for baldness, or larger breasts, I couldn’t help but think of Chris Rock‘s famous routine where he lauded the miraculous benefits of Robitussin while growing up:

 “Daddy, I got asthma… Robitussin”

“I got cancer… Robitussin!”

I broke my leg, Daddy poured Robitussin on it.

“Yeah, boy, let that ‘Tussin get in there… Let that Tussin get on down to the bone! The ‘Tussin ought to straighten out the bone, it’s good!”

Although I’m making light of these empty promises, the sad truth is that these irresponsible promises can actually lead to loss of more than just money. You don’t have to look far to hear stories of people who went to Asia to be treated with stem cells for something like ALS, only to die months later.

Any responsible search for the miraculous healing power of stem cells, should also be accompanied by validation from clinical trials, or data from trusted sources like the Mayo Clinic, or Web MD.

So, what’s the lesson here? While Robitussin does treat a cough, it won’t help with your sprained ankle.

Cord blood Stem Cells

Cord Blood Stem Cells

Stem Cells from Cord Blood – In the New Scientist, the question was posed: “should parents pay to have their child’s cord blood stored or instead donate it to a public cord blood bank?” My answer:

“If the couple already has a child with a life-threatening blood cancer, then banking the cord blood of a healthy newborn sibling is a fine idea, because that blood could save the older child’s life.”

Blood cancers are rare. In fact, a child has only between one in 1,000 and one in 200,000 chance of needing an infusion of his or her own cord blood later in life. The bigger promise advertised by some private banksbettertogive1.gif pivots on the supposed power of cord blood to cure common illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Some advertisements claim future cures for all of these, and may even be used to grow new body parts.

But wait a minute:

“Cord stem cells are scarce, and therefore not useful for most adults, who need large numbers of cells for transplants. Some assert that cord stem cells are powerful because they ignore their bloodline heritage and change into a multiplicity of cell types, including heart muscle and brain tissue. But this is hotly contested, and researchers are slugging it out experimentally, testing whether cord stem cells are as potent as the more optimistic scientists and cord blood banking companies claim.”

I argued that some claims about the therapeutic potential of cord blood were overstated, and that it was wrong to advertise that cures or treatments for complex diseases using cord blood were right around the corner.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has issued ethical guidelines for how physicians should talk to parents about donating their babies’ umbilical cord blood. The vote was clear: mothers should be encouraged to give the blood to public cord blood banks. The guidelines also suggest that doctors obtain the consent to donate before the mother goes into labor, disclose any ties they have to a cord blood bank, and not accept fees for a cord bank referral. In January, the Academy of Pediatrics said parents should consider private storage only if an older sibling has cancer or certain genetic diseases that can be successfully treated with cord blood.

Cord stem cells are powerful: I’ll explain in future posts what science says about the cells, and how research is trying to sort out how these cells can treat disease.

During the holiday season, the spirit of giving in hospitals should take another form. Parents can donate blood to public banks. That would increase the likelihood that a desperately sick child or adult would benefit.

Stem Cells & Cancer

Cancer stem cells

More than ten years into the 21st Century, cancer continues to be the #1 cause of death worldwide. Although therapeutic response rates and time to progression have dramatically improved, long-term survival has not changed for most, if not all, solid tumors such as those of the lung, breast, and colon. Past decades of cancer research and drug development have largely considered all tumor cells equal in status and potential for harm.

This is no longer the case, as rare sub-populations of tumor cells are being identified as responsible for fueling tumor growth. These cancer stem cells (CSC) appear more resistant to chemotherapy and radiation than most cells within the tumor, explaining why tumor regression following such therapies is so common. Furthermore, because newer therapies composed of antibodies or small molecules have been developed against bulk tumor cells and not the CSC population, it is unlikely that cures for cancer will be imminent until the scope of attention is focused on the CSC population itself.

Normal stem cells serve to support tissue growth and maintenance over the lifetime of an individual. Cancer stem cells, on the other hand, appear to be black sheep of the stem cell family and best resemble a normal tissue-specific stem cell gone awry. Although normal cells are generated, the growth rate and cell organization are highly abnormal because the CSC parents are generating too many offspring; ultimately resulting in masses of dysfunctional tissue. Because CSC have been differentiated from the majority of cells within a tumor that can be likened to branches of a tree, novel therapies with better efficacy will likely be aimed at the roots of the tumor (i.e. CSC). Realistically, the next generation of cancer therapies will target molecules on the cell surface, or within the cell, that CSC utilize to proliferate or survive as long-lived stem cells. Ideally, these therapeutic targets will not be expressed on normal stem cells such that there will be little damage to normal tissue.

Yet, the identification, isolation, and experimental manipulation of CSC from solid tumors poses major obstacles. As might be imagined, ripping cells away from their neighbors, upon which they are largely dependent, is no easy task. Developing assays that further allow CSC manipulation to learn about their biology is even more difficult. I’m often asked when there will be a “cure for cancer.” My answer is often that the term cancer encompasses many diseases and the war will be won in a progression of smaller battles. I am encouraged by my daily work with CSC that commonalities can be exploited to vastly improve not only treatment, but detection of cancer at earlier stages where therapies may be most beneficial.

Stem Cells & Cancer

Stem Cell Cartoon – Political Hypocrisy

stem cell cartoon pro life

political hypocrisy and stem cell research

Stem Cell Research and Political Hypocrisy – Not looking forward to the hypocrisy in politics usually associated with the stem cell debate. 2012 should be an interesting election year, and controversial topics like embryonic stem cell research are sure to resurface. I imagine Sarah Palin will be the next hypocrite to take a pro-life stand against stem cell funding? (perhaps she’ll do so during while on break from shooting wolves from a helicopter? – ha ha)

Dog Receives Stem Cell Therapy for Arthritis

dog receives stem cell therapy

Sam the Border Collie

Dog Receives Stem Cell Therapy for Arthritis – Sam, a 12 year old border collie and champion show dog from Memphis, recently received the first same-day stem cell therapy for dogs in the state of Georgia. The stem cell therapy was performed in an effort to relieve Sam’s pain and inflammation that he suffers due to arthritis.

The stem cell therapy procedure, which cost about $3000, involved harvesting stem cells from Sam’s own fat, processing them, and then injecting them back into his arthritic joints. Stem cells take on the functions of other cells in the body, and have the capacity to rebuild and repair diseased or damaged tissue.  In this case, the stem cells are intended to interrupt the inflammatory cascade in Sam’s joints, thereby taking away the pain.

The “same-day” nature of the dog’s stem cell therapy is important, as in the past the procedure would have sent the cells to a lab in California for processing, taking 3 to 5 days. This amount of time would surely kill a number of the stem cells, and cause other stem cells to lose their effectiveness.

The Stem cell therapy for arthritis performed on Sam is expected to show results in a few weeks. The obvious hope with stem cell therapy such as this, is its tremendous promise with similar conditions like arthritis in humans.

Full story and video from Fox 5 in Atlanta

Stem Cell Therapy for Arthritis in Dogs