When the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, the results can be debilitating. This is what life is like for those with autoimmune diseases. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, and most treatments focus on controlling the symptoms, not healing. New treatments using stem cells are now being clinically studied at stem cell therapy practices around the globe with hopes of finding more permanent solutions for those with autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Ahvie Herskowitz, a specialist at San Francisco Stem Cell Center and founder of Antara Medicine, believes that stem cells are the key to treating many diseases that have no cure.
“Using adult stem cells taken from the patient’s own body, our goal is to stimulate the healing process,” he said. “The cells are capable of forming bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, ligaments, blood vessels and even certain organs.”
Although stem cell therapy is still investigational and is being used for clinical trials at this time, many doctors like Herskowitz report promising results.
Diabetes and Stem Cells
Many studies have shown that treating diabetes with stem cell therapy could be a viable solution. One study conducted by Harvard Medical School looked at 65 patients with type 1 diabetes. While being treated with stem cell therapy, many were no longer dependent on insulin, and a third of them maintained this independence at the end of the trial.
Multiple Sclerosis and Stem Cells
This often debilitating disease of the central nervous system causes disruptions in communication between the brain and the body.
“Studies are showing improved quality of life for many MS patients who have undergone stem cell therapy,” Herskowitz said.
Researchers believe that the treatment could possibly slow the disease and repair damage that has occurred.
Lupus and Stem Cells
According to the National Resource Center on Lupus, 16,000 new cases of lupus are diagnosed each year in the United States. The pain, fatigue, hair loss, and physical and cognitive issues that are associated with the autoimmune disease make life very challenging for the 1.5 million Americans currently living with lupus. As there is no cure for the disease, most treatment plans aim to reduce inflammation, suppress the immune system, prevent flares and control symptoms while minimizing damage to organs.
“We believe stem cells can help alleviate inflammation in those living with lupus,” Herskowitz said. “Studies have been conducted that show great promise with regards to renal function and antibody levels.”
Crohn’s Disease and Stem Cells
Over half a million Americans suffer from the gastrointestinal symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Since research can be hard to track as a whole with so many studies going on, one team from the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-Sen University in China decided to analyze the results of 21 studies involving stem cell therapy for patients with Crohn’s. Their data showed that 56 percent of the patients in the combined studies achieved clinical response.
As with all investigative medicine, more research must be done before conclusive results can be established. However, many doctors believe the outcomes for stem cell medicine are promising.