Your immune system is the front line of defense from disease and infection. But, if you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system doesn’t attack only the disease and infection, but your healthy cells, and it can affect many different parts of your body and exhibit many different symptoms.
Diabetes Mellitus Type II
Individuals with type II diabetes have difficulty using insulin properly. In some cases, insulin resistance prevents the body from utilizing glucose (sugar) properly, while in other cases, the body fails to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood glucose. Both insulin resistance and failure to produce insulin in adequate amounts result in hyperglycemia (elevated blood glucose) causing symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, increased hunger, fatigue, blurry vision, slow wound healing, frequent infections, or areas of darkened skin. Prolonged elevated blood glucose can lead to serious complications such as atherosclerosis, retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the eyes), nephropathy (kidney damage), and neuropathy (damage to nerves in your hands and feet). Treatment for diabetes mellitus type II includes dietary modification, exercise, weight reduction, and various pharmacologic therapies. Stem cell therapy holds promise in addressing regeneration of insulin-producing cells as well as repairing tissue damage that may have occurred.
Diabetes Mellitus Type I
Type I diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas resulting in little to no insulin production. Without insulin, glucose cannot enter the cells to make energy and, instead, remains in elevated concentrations in the blood, resulting in increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger, weight loss, and/or blurry vision. Insulin treatment is imperative for individuals with diabetes mellitus type I. While treatment with insulin maintains blood glucose levels, it does not address the autoimmune cause of hyperglycemia. Stem cells may offer the possibility of regenerating insulin-producing pancreatic cells as well as recruiting and increasing the body’s immunosuppressive cells.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease common in middle age, especially in women. The disease affects peripheral joints, including the wrists, feet, ankles, and knees. The cause is unknown and eyes and skin also can be involved. Early aggressive therapy with immunosuppressive drugs and anti-inflammatories appears to delay joint destruction. More recently, biologic agents have been added to regimens that include TNF inhibitors, WBC modulators, and growth factor inhibitors. Research is ongoing to evaluate the effects of stem cells on auto-immune conditions. According to the Journal of Translational Research, “The ability of MSC to inhibit immune response, while offering the possibility of inducing/accelerating healing of tissue that has already been damaged, makes this population attractive for treatment of autoimmune disorders.”
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that occurs in half a million people in North America. It may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus, causing a wide variety of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea (which may be bloody if inflammation is at its worst), vomiting (can be continuous), or weight loss. Skin rashes and arthritis can also occur. Crohn’s disease has a genetic component, but it is an auto-immune disease in which the person’s own immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract possibly directed at microbial antigens. The terminal ileum is the part of the bowel most often affected in this disease. Treatment often includes immune-suppressant therapy with steroids. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories are also used extensively. In Europe, stem cells are used commonly to treat Crohn’s. Research is ongoing to evaluate the effects of stem cells on auto-immune conditions.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the colon. UC involves an autoimmune response where the immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the large intestine as foreign or invading substances. This causes the immune system to send white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, which causes the lining to become inflamed and ulcerated, causing abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. In general, symptoms involve bowel movements that are loose, urgent, bloody, and causes cramping. The cause of UC is believed to be the combination of genes, immune system dysregulation, and environmental triggers. Current treatment options are anti-inflammatory medications and other medications to control and suppress symptoms. Due to their ability to divide, renew, and become tissue and organ-specific cells, stem cells offer the possibility of acting as an internal repair system in the colon to replace diseased and damaged tissues.
Relapsing Polychondritis is an auto-immune condition characterized by the body attacking its own cartilage. Polychondritis patients suffer from recurrent relapsing episodes of painful cartilage inflammation. Susceptible areas include ears, nasopharynx, heart valves, and blood vessels. As stated in Annals of Internal Medicine, “Relapsing Polychondritis…can be life-threatening and debilitating.” The disease is life threatening and debilitating. There is no one specific test for identifying Polychondritis and the course of the disease is often unpredictable. Treatment consists of anti-inflammatory medications and immune suppression with corticosteroids. Research is ongoing to evaluate the effects of stem cells on auto-immune conditions. According to the Journal of Rheumatology Supplements, “the opportunity to ablate (with autologous stem cells) severe autoimmune disease with increased safety is particularly attractive for necrotizing vasculitides, polymyositis/dermatomyositis, primary Sjögren’s syndrome, systemic juvenile arthritis, and relapsing Polychondritis.”
Scleroderma is a systemic autoimmune disease that primarily affects skin and joints, but can affect the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. The destruction of Scleroderma is due to the damage of endothelial and smooth muscle cells of small arteries, which are replaced with fibrous material and an inflow of inflammatory cells. Standard treatment of Scleroderma involves immunosuppressive drugs. Mesenchymal stem cells are under investigation for their potential regenerative, immune-regulatory, and anti-inflammatory properties. As recently stated in Best Practices & Research Clinical Rheumatology in a review of Scleroderma, “Stem cell transplantation seems to be promising in restarting the immune system to diminish fibrosis and restore microvasculature.”
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, considered a collection of diseases, is an auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues, especially in the joints (especially fingers, wrists, hands, and knees). Patients often develop fatigue, rash, and swollen lymph nodes, but many body parts can be affected. As with other auto-immune conditions, anti-inflammatory medications and immune-suppressants are used commonly for treatment. Sometimes cytotoxic drugs are used for severe cases. Research is also ongoing to evaluate the effects of stem cells on auto-immune conditions.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating neurological disease that is thought to be caused by destruction of the myelin sheaths (fatty protective insulation) around axons of the brain and spinal cord. Loss of myelin impacts the ability of these tissues to conduct signals and the inflammatory process can lead to scarring resulting in a broad range of symptoms. This myelin damage appears to be related primarily to an auto-immune dysfunction, but there also appears to be environmental and genetic factors involved. There is no known cure for the physical and cognitive defects associated with chronic MS. Many investigators are looking at using the regenerative properties of cell therapy to mitigate the impact of MS on the nervous system.
An underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism, is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks its thyroid, resulting in inflammation and hypothyroidism. Since thyroid hormone is responsible for maintaining the body’s metabolic processes, hypothyroidism results in symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, constipation, dry skin, depression, and hair loss. New research on mesenchymal stem cell therapy has shown promise in treating thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, offering a possible alternative to thyroid medication.
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Any and all statements and opinions are provided for educational information and are not intended for medical diagnosis. As with all medical treatments and procedures, results may vary on an individual basis.
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