Stem cells play a vital role in making new body parts and saving lives. Recent ground-breaking work in Sweden at the University of Gothenburg replaced a blocked blood vessel in a ten year old child using the first vein grown from the patient’s own stem cells. This breakthrough has important implications for stem cell-based grafts for heart and dialysis patients who need replacement blood vessels. Many replacement surgeries risk organ rejection but implanting a patient’s own stem cells minimizes any such risk as well as lessening the need for post-surgery immunosuppressive treatment.
The surgeons at the University of Gothenburg successfully performed blood vessel replacement surgery by infusing a donor groin with the patient’s own stem cells; the child had a blocked hepatic portal vein, the main pathway that drains blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver. The procedure involved the extraction of stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow that were then injected into a protein scaffold tube containing a section of groin from a deceased donor, in which all the living cells were removed. The stem cells placed on the scaffold tube resulted in a graft that was then implanted in the patient as a new blood vessel. It should be noted that while normal blood flow was restored, a new cell-based graft was needed later on. The alternative to stem cell implantation would have been a more risky procedure that was avoided that could have involved harvesting veins from the patient’s leg and neck. Worst-case scenario would have involved a liver transplant.
While exciting stem cell breakthroughs are occurring, more clinical trials will lead to a quality-controlled process that can develop into commercialization of the procedure. Towards this end, a team led by Sumitran-Holgersson is developing ways to harvest stem cells from blood rather than bone marrow to make the grafts more “personalized” and could include “off-the-shelf scaffolds from which tailor-made blood vessels can be built.” The relatively simple hollow structure of blood cells and stem cell blood vessel regeneration can one day help build complex organs like lungs and hearts.
Stem cell treatment is saving lives with umbilical cord stem cells that can treat children. Cord blood can be used to repair or replace damaged cells in the body. Family cord blood banks have developed to save children’s cord blood stem cells should a child ever need it. The collection occurs immediately following birth and is performed by a medical professional by clamping the cord to allow the blood drawn by a blood-bag needle to flow into a bag. The two to four minute procedure results in a sealed blood bag that is processed for storage at low temperature. There are both public and private cord blood banks. Private ones involve using the blood only for the donor’s family. Public banks make the stem cells available to the public. Research shows that cord blood stem-cell transplants are two times more successful from a family donor rather than from a public donor.
Cord blood stem cells can treat life-threatening illnesses including cancers, leukemia, bone marrow issues, sickle-cell anemia and other blood disorders. Research suggests future applications could involve treatments for diabetes, heart disease and sports injuries.
An inspiring story of successful stem cell treatment occurred this year with baby Ellen, who was diagnosed with the same Mitochondrial Disorder that killed her eighteen month old brother ten years ago when little was known about the benefits of stem cell treatment. Ellen’s twin sister does not have the disease. This genetic disease manifests itself when the mitochondria of each cell fail to produce sufficient fuel for cell or organ function. After receiving treatment in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, the little one year old from Ireland is improving.
Stem cell treatment is saving lives today with applications that range from replacement of blood vessels to umbilical cord blood treatment for life-threatening diseases of the heart, bone marrow and blood. Like creating new blood vessels, scientists are quickly moving towards ways to regrow body parts outside of the human body. Even better, this process is all done with the patient’s own stem cells, avoiding risky organ replacement or more invasive surgery makes stem cell treatment a welcome choice of treatment.
Copyright © 2012 Alex Martin MD & Francesca Coxe, Los Angeles. Edited by Devin Stone
ARA. “Umbilical Cord Stem Cells Provide Life-saving Treatment for Children.” - JSOnline. N.p., 13 June 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://www.jsonline.com/sponsoredarticles/easyliving/umbilical-cord-stem-cells-provide-lifesaving-treatment-for-children8067600101-158861755.html>.
“Baby Ellen Is ‘much Stronger’ Says Dad.” Leinster Express. Press Council of Ireland, 14 June 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://www.leinsterexpress.ie/community/community-news/baby-ellen-is-much-stronger-says-dad-1-3945860>.
Hirschler, Ben. “Vein Grown from Stem Cells Saves 10-year-old Girl.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 13 June 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/06/13/us-stemcells-vein-idINBRE85C1RR20120613?feedType=RSS>.