A Type of Stem Cells May Reduce Emphysema
Last updated: February 2022
A while back I talked to you about stem cell therapy for COPD. The idea is you inject stem cells into a vein and they travel to lung tissue and cause it to regrow. This is supposed to reduce emphysema, maybe even cure it. It’s an exciting topic that we hope someday will prove fruitful as a new treatment option for all of us in this community.
Some background on stem cells
If you want to learn more about stem cells, you can check out my article, “Let’s Investigate Stem Cell Treatment.” Feel free to click on that link and then click on back here so we can continue our discussion.
While this is still a dream treatment, studies in this area show promise. I wrote earlier about a type of stem cell therapy called Remestemcel-L. Studies show this type of stem cell improved lung function and exercise capacity in people with COPD. You can read more about this in my post “What are Remestemcel-L Stem Cells?” Again, feel free to click on over if you want, but don't forget to come back!
So, there are also other types of stem cells researchers think may prove beneficial for people living with COPD. One example is Mesenchymal Stromal Cells. So, this is what I would like to discuss in this post.
What are mesenchymal stromal cells?
They are a type of stem cells. Well, at least most researchers think they are a type of stem cells. Some researchers think they are not stem cells at all. These researchers think they are completely different types of cells. Allow me to explain.
Mesenchymal stem cells are stem cells drawn from adult bone marrow. They are cells that have not yet been told what to do. This means they have not been told to be a heart cell, or a lung cell, or a kidney cell, or an immune cell. So, they can be inserted anywhere in the body and become any type of cell you want. Or, at least that is what researchers believe.1-2
Mesenchymal stromal cells are similar. They are stem cells drawn from bone marrow, adipose (fat) tissue, dental tissue, and other places in your body. Like mesenchymal stem cells, they have not been told what to do. So, the hope is that they can be directed to be any type of cell you want. In our case, that’s lung cells.3-4
Stem cells or not?
Are they really stem cells? It probably ultimately doesn’t matter for our sake. The fact that some researchers think they work similarly to stem cells is all we need to know. These researchers think mesenchymal stem cells and mesenchymal stromal cells are very similar. So similar, in fact, that they are allowing the acronym MSC to be used for both.3
See! This research is so new that researchers can't even agree on what to call it! Still, what matters is that researchers think MSCs might help people living with COPD.
COPD, as we know, is emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both of these conditions are caused by long-term exposure to harmful substances in the air, like cigarette smoke. Such exposure causes your immune system to release chemicals to attack harmful substances which causes inflammation of lung tissue. This inflammation is what eventually causes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Researchers believe mesenchymal stromal cells secrete chemicals and these chemicals turn off genes that secrete inflammatory chemicals. In this way, they may reduce the type of inflammation in the lungs that lead to emphysema.
Can mesenchymal stromal cells reduce emphysema?
Early research looks promising. A phase I clinical trial was performed on mice with COPD. As is typical with such studies, some mice were given the actual medicine and this was the experimental group. Other mice were given a placebo or fake medicine, and this was the control group. Control groups are important as they give researchers something to compare results with.4
The study results showed that mice injected with mesenchymal stromal cells had less inflammation. They also had less emphysema.4
Potential in humans
So, will this treatment work the same in humans? Previous studies with this treatment did show that it was safe for humans. Likewise, it showed that it resulted in less inflammation. But, they did not show a reduction in emphysema. But this by no means discouraged researchers. In fact, the early promising results are what inspired the most recent study.4
It was done on nine patients with COPD. They were all injected with mesenchymal stromal cells. The study results concluded that the immune response responsible for inflammation was slowed.4
The downside is this benefit only lasted for seven days. One theory for this is that the mesenchymal stromal cells broke down after a week of treatment. However, this is not totally proof this therapy will not work, but it may show that weekly infusions will be necessary if this type of stem cell treatment is eventually approved by the FDA.4 This is also why the researchers analyzing this study concluded that more studies are indicated.
A new field
Look, there are many different types of stem cells and there is a lot we do not know about them. This is no knock on researchers or scientists. It is just the truth because stem cell research is relatively new. In fact, researchers didn’t even know about stem cells until the early 1980s.5
It's exciting, yet frustrating. It’s exciting because it might just well become a viable treatment for us. It gives us hope. It’s frustrating because we yearn for a new treatment option right now. Yet the reality is that it will probably take some time to determine if stem cells will prove beneficial and safe for COPD.
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