COPD or Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is one of the most dangerous diseases affecting more than 200 million people across the globe. COPD is considered to be the cause of about 3 million deaths annually. This is a life-threatening disease which is caused due to many reasons like smoking, pollution, dust, irritants, genetic disorders, etc. It is associated with the excess production of sputum and an inflammation which obstructs the airways and results in breathing problems. Increasing number of deaths caused due to this disease has raised many questions about the treatment of this chronic disease. Though there is no cure for COPD, the condition can be controlled with the help of some treatments. Stem cell therapy which has proved to be one of the most successful treatments for many chronic health conditions like heart diseases, osteoporosis, stroke, etc., has given a ray of hope in favor of COPD. Find out more in the upcoming paragraphs.
Role of Stem Cells in COPD Treatment
Stem cells are known for their regenerative properties which helps in the development of the tissues and blood cells. These cells are of two types: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can be derived from blastocyst which is a type of embryo; whereas adult stem cells are found in the bone marrow, skin, umbilical cord, placenta and many other tissues. Embryonic stem cells are derived and are grown in cell culture for research and development. But adult stem cells, once removed from the body, divide with great difficulty, which makes the treatment difficult to perform. Either the stem cells are from the person itself who needs it and is known as autologous stem cell, or they can be received from a donor which is known as allogeneic stem cell. Cells donated by the donor may or may not be accepted by the body's immune system. Hence, using one's own stem cells reduces the chances of rejection. In COPD, the tissues and cells of the lungs are destroyed, which causes various types of complications, hence with the help of stem cell therapy the destroyed or damaged cells can be regenerated and new lung tissues can be formed.
According to the procedure followed by the International Stem Cell Institute (ISCI); San Diego, California, adipose tissue is removed from the patient and is processed with a combination of platelet rich plasma which contains growth factors that help in the process of cell multiplication and development. Then these stem cells are activated with the help of specialized low laser light which is induced into the patient via IV infusion. This helps in COPD treatment as whenever the lungs need repair, about 80% of the stem cells reach the repairing site through the circulatory system. When the blood passes through the lungs, the fresh stem cells get trapped in the space where the damage is, and start multiplying and repairing the tissues. The recovery does not takes place immediately, but improvement can be noticed in 3 to 6 months. It helps in the suppression of inflammation, improves breathing and cures many pulmonary complications.
Research Supporting Stem Cell Therapy for COPD
A research was conducted by Dr. Fernandez Vina, a world-renowned pioneer in the field of human stem cell therapy, using adult stem cells for the lung diseases COPD and emphysema on 33 patients. All these people were suffering from COPD and emphysema, and had a smoking history of 30 to 40 years. After 60 days of observation it was seen that the dosage of medications which the patients where using was decreased. One of the medicines prednisone was gradually decreased in dosage and was finally stopped. Hence, it was concluded that autologous bone marrow implantation improved the functioning of the lungs, and was helpful in overcoming this pulmonary disease. In another study, it was indicated that a particular type of stem cell: mesenchymal stem cell, is capable of suppressing many immune system agents like macrophages. This helps the body in accepting the stem cells and the treatment.
Controversies Surrounding Stem Cell Therapy for COPD
As this concept is new and not completely developed, stem cell therapy is under many controversies. In the United States, autologous stem cell treatment is legal only if it is used without any manipulation. But as the multiplication and development of stem cells is very difficult outside one's body, and to make it clinically relevant, millions of stem cells need to be implanted in the patient's body. Hence, scientists try to manipulate these cells so that they produce large number of cells. But according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), any manipulation will turn these cells into prescription drugs which should be strictly handled by the government. Well, this concept is protested by many scientists and official decisions on this matter are still due.
There may be some risks in allogeneic stem cell therapy as the cells are from another body. In this case, the immune system may reject the stem cells, or may migrate to other parts of the body or may form a tumor. But it can be helpful also. Stem cell therapy has benefited many people suffering from COPD. But you may not get manipulated stem cell therapy in U.S. because of the FDA norms. You can get manipulated stem cell therapy in some medical institutions which enroll patients for research work. So if you want to go for these institutions then, gather enough information and inquire about the risks as well as benefits of this therapy.