Stem Cell Therapy and COPD

Stem cell therapy is an exciting area of research. Scientists are beginning to understand how stem cells work and how they can be used to treat medical conditions. But stem cell therapies are still experimental. No stem cell therapies have been approved by the FDA to treat conditions such as COPD, diabetes, or heart disease.

What are stem cells?

Cells have been called the “building blocks of life.” Your body is made of many different kinds of cells, each with its own job. Most cells are specialized. This means that they have different shapes and sizes, depending on their jobs.1

Stem cells are unspecialized cells. They can develop into different cell types. There are several kinds of stem cells, which do different things (Table).1,2

Stem Cell Type Description
Embryonic stem cells
These cells can develop into any cell type in the body. They usually come from a 3- to 5-day old embryo that was created by in vitro fertilization for the purpose of assisted reproduction. Embryos that are no longer needed for that purpose may be donated for research.
Adult (somatic) stem cells
These cells are somewhat more limited. They are unspecialized cells found among the specialized cells in a particular organ or tissue. Adult stem cells can develop into some or all of the specialized cell types found in that organ or tissue. Subtypes include hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells and mesenchymal (stromal) stem cells.
Induced pluripotent stem cells
These are specialized cells that have been engineered to act like embryonic stem cells. This means that they have been manipulated (“induced”) in the lab so that they can develop into any cell type in the body (“pluripotent”).

How can stem cells be used to treat medical problems?

Stem cells have two important characteristics:1,2

  1. They can self-renew. This means that they divide and make copies of themselves.
  2. They can develop into specialized cells.

These two characteristics make stem cells very exciting to scientists looking for new treatments.

Stem cells are already used to treat blood cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma, and other blood disorders.3 A person with blood cancer may be treated with radiation or a high dose of chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. These treatments also damage the bone marrow, which is where new blood cells form. The patient receives hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells after the cancer treatment. The stem cells start to make new blood cells within a few weeks.

Researchers hope that in the future, stem cells can be used to replace damaged tissue. They may also be useful in helping the body repair itself.1,2 Stem cells are being studied to treat a variety of diseases. Right now, much of the research is focused on treatments for diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration, and multiple sclerosis.1

Can COPD be treated with stem cell therapy?

Researchers do not know yet whether stem cells can be used to treat COPD. In rodents, treatment with adult stem cells has improved some lung disease, including COPD.4 These results have piqued the interest of researchers who want to know more about the effects on humans.

The first human study was disappointing.4 Sixty-two people with moderate to severe COPD were randomly assigned to adult stem cells or fake treatment (placebo). Patients received four monthly infusions. According to the authors, the results showed that stem cell infusions were safe. However, the people who got stem cells did not have improvements in lung function. Stem cell treatment also did not improve patients’ quality of life or symptoms. The authors point out that the trial was designed to study the safety of the treatment. It did not have enough participants to fully study whether the treatment works.

To date, the FDA has not approved any stem cell therapy for COPD.5 No major medical association has endorsed use of stem cells for COPD.6

Should I participate in a clinical trial of stem cell therapy?

Clinical trials are needed to prove that stem cell therapies are safe and effective. Not all clinical trials are high-quality or credible. For people who are interested in clinical trials, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has a list of questions to consider.1 In general, makers of a credible clinical trial are:1

  • Registration in a national or international registry (ClinicalTrials.gov or International Clinical Trials Registry)
  • Approval by a regulatory body, such as the FDA
  • Independent oversight
  • Absence or disclosure of conflicts of interest
  • Qualified researchers and health care providers

Usually, the drug company or government agency running a clinical trial pays for the cost of treatment. It should be a red flag if you are asked to cover the cost of treatment as a participant in a trial.1

View References
  1. International Society for Stem Cell Research. A closer look at stem cells. Accessed 1/12/16 at: http://www.closerlookatstemcells.org/
  2. National Institutes of Health. Stem cell information. Accessed 1/12/16 at: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx
  3. American Cancer Society. Why would someone need a stem cell transplant? Accessed 1/13/16 at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/bonemarrowandperipheralbloodstemcelltransplant/stem-cell-transplant-when-do-people-need-transplant
  4. Weiss DJ, Casaburi R, Flannery R, LeRoux-Williams M, Tashkin DP. A placebo-controlled, randomized trial of mesenchymal stem cells in COPD. Chest. 2013;143:1590-1598.
  5. US Food and Drug Administration. FDA warns about stem cell claims. Accessed 1/13/16 at: http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm286155.htm
  6. American Lung Association. Public Policy Position – Research. 6/23/12. Accessed 1/13/16 at: http://www.lung.org/get-involved/become-an-advocate/public-policy-position-research.html

Comments

View Comments (9)
  • Janet Plank
    1 year ago

    A friends cousin went to Mexico for his stem cell transplant. He then received a medication in North Dakota. It was amazing how it helped. He went from Stage 4 bedridden, to working full time and off of oxygen. I wasn’t able to get dates and info, but the next time I talked to my friend, her cousin was worse than he was prior to the transplant.

    Right now, I from what I have heard and studied up on, it’s buyer beware. If you have to invest your own money into something that is a trial or research, that’s wrong. Those are done free of charge. There is a reason that testing is done and approved, because then it isn’t taking advantage of people, nor is it making guinea pigs of them.

    I know that some are fighting for their lives and my heart goes out to each and every one. I know that I’m not at that place yet. And in this fight people are willing to do whatever they can to survive. Just know, that I have not heard of a stem cell transplant that’s been successful. My friend’s cousin, left us feeling such joy, and that was quickly taken away. If you are determined to talk with someone about a stem cell transplant, talk to your doctor and organizations that you have heard of, that would have insite into this…. I’m thinking of the Mayo Clinic, National Jewish, Cleveland Clinic and other main hospitals. These also do research. Beware of the research organizations that are wanting money, sums of money in the thousands of dollars and more unless they come recommended by one of the main groups mentioned. These are some that you haven’t heard of, until you see their ad.

    I care about you and your overall health. Do keep us posted and let us know what and how you are doing.

    For those considering stem cell, do you qualify for a transplant?
    Janet (site moderator)

  • DebbieCartwright
    1 year ago

    Last week we contacted the longest toot are regarding stem cells therapy for COPD. We were told there was an 84% chance and then provement with stem cell therapy using your own stem cells. They suggested coming in for the first treatment and then 3 months later another treatment of course the cost was high $12,000 for both treatments. A red flag was raised when I started pouring the high prices. Yet, being the lung Institute we thought maybe there is some validity rather hoped there was some truth to what they said . We were ready to jump jump on the bandwagon and head down to Phoenix until we started doing some research we don’t have the kind of money to throw away that they’re asking for. Still, we hope to find something to improve our lives quality. It’s an effort just to go to the bathroom for both my husband and I

  • JoanneC
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing this information. I’m thinking of going it alone, without waiting for the FDA approval, as my COPD worsens.

    Hearing lots of good empirical stories about individuals claiming it worked for them, so I do take it all with a grain of salt.

    My pulmonolgyst, however, supports my efforts to consider stem cell treatment (since I’ve already refused to consider a lung transplant), so we’ll see how it goes over time.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Tracy and Arby – although I cannot presume to answer on behalf of Joanne C (my hope is that she will see your inquiries and respond herself), I had a thought as to what she was saying. I
    When I read her post, I took her comment to mean she would find a way to get the therapy without waiting for the FDA to grant their approval and regulate the procedure.

    That was how I understood what she wrote. Let’s see if she sees this posts and explains what she meant herself.

    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Brie
    12 months ago

    I posted my concerns here about stem cell treatments but unable to find my post.Currently,stem cell treatments are widely used only to treat a handful of blood disorders-including leukemia and some forms of anemia. Be very wary if a Doctor or Institution requests payments for their services. It should be free. There is absolutely no evidence at this time that COPD can successfully be treated with stem cells. Please read the March 2018 issue of Consumer Reports for additional information.

  • Brie
    12 months ago

    I posted my concerns here about stem cell treatments but unable to find my post.Currently,stem cell treatments are widely used only to treat a handful of blood disorders-including leukemia and some forms of anemia. Be very wary if a Doctor or Institution requests payments for their services. It should be free. There is absolutely no evidence at this time that COPD can successfully be treated with stem cells. Please read the March 2018 issue of Consumer Reports for additional information

  • DebbieCartwright
    1 year ago

    Last week we contacted the longest toot are regarding stem cells therapy for COPD. We were told there was an 84% chance and then provement with stem cell therapy using your own stem cells. They suggested coming in for the first treatment and then 3 months later another treatment of course the cost was high $12,000 for both treatments. A red flag was raised when I started pouring the high prices. Yet, being the lung Institute we thought maybe there is some validity rather hoped there was some truth to what they said . We were ready to jump jump on the bandwagon and head down to Phoenix until we started doing some research we don’t have the kind of money to throw away that they’re asking for. Still, we hope to find something to improve our lives quality. It’s an effort just to go to the bathroom for both my husband and I

  • Arby
    1 year ago

    Curious, myself. :

  • TracyCarnahan
    1 year ago

    What do you mean by “go it alone”? I would be interested in finding out how to do that.

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