STUDIES on the potential applications of Adult Stem Cell (ASC) Therapy are rapidly expanding, thanks to the fast gaining popularity of regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine is a branch of medicine that restores damaged or malfunctioning cells and tissues due to age, disease or congenital defects. It comprises of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy, ASC, Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) Therapy and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) Therapy, among others. Meanwhile, only the PRP and ASC are currently available in clinically settings, proven and considered safe for practical use in humans. Doctors practising in this relatively new field of medicine have very strong passion for it because of the possibilities it provides. Regenerative medicine is the medicine of tomorrow that is available today and holds a lot of promises with the results that we see in the US and Nigeria. For example, as doctors, we were taught in school that the central nervous system rarely regenerates, that there is little or no hope for paralyzed patients, and that damaged brain tissue may be a permanent condition, just to name a few. Nowadays, the re-growth of brain cells and improvements of neurological function in spinal cord injury (SCI) patients have been documented. When applicable, ASC treatment is basically a medical time machine.
The results we see every day are what drive regenerative medicine and keep more grants rolling in for additional researches and studies. Some ailments are responding well to ASC in Nigeria. The ailments include diabetes mellitus (DM), chronic kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, hypertension and some neurological disorders. In the case of diabetes, DM is a condition where hyperglycemia is caused by islet ß-cell function deficiency (type I) and inadequate insulin secretion and/or the context of insulin resistance (type II). Type 1 DM is caused by an autoimmune response to the ß-cells, which physiologically release insulin into pancreas leading to significant inflammation. By the time the symptoms of type 1 diabetes appear, around 80 percent of the patient’s pancreatic beta cells would have been damaged. If the autoimmune aggression is interrupted at this point, and the remaining cells are protected, the patient can produce an amount of insulin that is small but nevertheless important. Current therapies used in type 1 diabetes treatment include insulin administration, blood glucose monitoring and screening for common comorbidities and diabetes-related complications. However, these treatments fail to reduce the damage on a patient’s immune system. The use of autologous ASC as a potential type 1 diabetes therapy is based upon the ability of the stem cells to “reset” the immune system. Autologous Adult Stems Cells are retrieved from a patient’s own bone marrow or fat with or without peripheral blood and, after conditioning, are injected intravenously.
In a study with 25 volunteers aged between 12 and 35, the therapeutic effect of ASC lasted about 42 months (3.5 years) but ranges overall from six months to 12 years, the longest follow-up period so far. Three patients remain completely insulin-free. One has been insulin-free for 10 years, another for 11, and the third for 12. According to the authors, the duration of the therapeutic effect was shorter in the patients whose immune systems had attacked the pancreatic cells more aggressively in the pre-transplantation period.
Type 2 DM (T2D) has two main problems: Insufficient production of insulin from the pancreas and the resistance of body cells to normal or even high levels of insulin. T2D remains a major health problem that afflicts a growing population of sedentary, obese and digitally avid population shifting away from healthy lifestyles. Complications may involve several organs and affect the well-being of patients significantly. There is no question that cellular therapy is one of the future methods being investigated not only to treat but also to cure T2D. Using USC to treat T2D is no longer absolutely a new idea, at least in advanced countries. Several studies have shown that ASC can be used to stop or taper the manifestations, complications and possibly halt T2D for a variable period of time.
Can cardiac stem cells from young hearts rejuvenate old hearts? According to a study published in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal, scientists offer new hope for heart failure patients. Using stem cells derived from umbilical cord, researchers have improved the heart muscle and function of heart failure patients, paving the way for non-invasive therapies. The good news is that there are clinical studies showing the benefits of autologous (donor is the same as the recipient) ASC for heart disease, allowing the practical use of it in the clinics instead of waiting for the study that uses allogenic (donor is different from the recipient) heart cells to reach the clinical stage. Safe and effective ASC for heart disease, however, still needs to be improved on before they can become the main street cure for cardiac disease. When orthodox medicine fails, ASC may step in to save the day.
Can stem cells make hair grow? Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles say that they have identified a new way to activate stem cells in hair follicles to regrow hair. The study findings could lead to new drugs that could promote hair growth for people with baldness or alopecia. The experimental drugs were used in preclinical tests only and have not been tested in humans or approved as safe and effective for use in humans. On the contrary, we are already getting great results in hair restoration treatments using autologous PRP Therapy or ADSC. This has been proven to be safe and effective. I am a living testimony of such treatment as I used to have a receding hair in my frontal head before I had autologous PRP Therapy on December 6, 2016. Now the result speaks for itself. Regenerative medicine can help address health challenges in Nigeria. The wealth of a nation can be measured by the health of the citizens. Nigeria has poor health indices. One of the reasons is that most Nigerians do not embrace preventive medicine. Regenerative medicine, as in PRP Therapy and ASC can help reduce our mortality rate in Nigeria, thereby enhancing our health indices. ASC and PRP Therapy hold answers to many questions and problems that we doctors used to believe had no solutions. This is a game-changing area of medicine with the potentials to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, offering solutions and hope for people who have conditions that today are beyond repair. ASC is different from the controversial Embryonic Stem Cell (ESCT) Therapy and, to be very clear, ESCT is not what is practiced at the facilities where I work in the US and Nigeria. ESCT has both religious and ethical issues surrounding it. The other type of ASC that does not currently have outpatient clinic applications is induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSCs are produced in the lab by reprogramming adult cells to express embryonic stem cells characteristics.
What is allowed without these ethical or religious issues is ASC, which uses the stem cells obtained from an individual patient. There is also Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Therapy which is a type of stem cell used in ASC. When applicable, regenerative medicine can help patients stop being dependent on taking medications daily, avoid surgery, feel younger and more energized, help couples perform their marital enjoyment at older ages as if they just got married, and help prevent the manifestation of complications of some diseases. Despite the fact that there are lots of medical applications of regenerative medicine that people are already benefiting from all over the world, there is still a lot of benefits and further understanding that we do not know yet. What we know is that autologous ASC is safe without risk of rejection of the transplanted stem cells. Nigeria should not be left behind in this new field of medicine, and I understand that it may not yet be affordable for everyone today but health is wealth and you cannot put a price on someone’s health. The Federal Government should get more involved than they currently are, providing more grants to medical institutions with the ultimate goal of making regenerative medicine more affordable for Nigerians and making Nigeria the centre for medical tourism in Africa.
In the case of infertility treatment, stem cell transplantation increases the chances of being fertile and/or the success rate of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). A Nigerian doctor is currently leading a human clinical study into direct target organ treatment for premature ovarian failure in Georgia, US. These remedies using ASC and PRP Therapy are available in Nigeria, at least in Lagos and Abuja for Nigerians to readily access without having to travel abroad.
- Ikudayisi is of the Glory Wellness and Regenerative Centre, Lagos