Atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema, affects tens of millions of Americans. In fact, a population-based survey of the US found that 31.6 million people in the country suffered from the condition. While it is more common in children than adults, it can present at any age. It’s also usually a chronic condition that persists for years, or even a lifetime, and there is no cure. However, stem cell therapy may offer an alternative treatment option for suffers.
What Is Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a skin condition that is marked by red, itchy skin. It can be mild, moderate or severe. It’s also related to other health conditions and often appears in patients who also suffer from asthma and serious allergies (generally hay fever). While there is no cure, there are treatments available, although they range in effectiveness from moderately effective to barley effective. Stem cell therapy may be more effective than any conventional option.
What Causes Atopic Dermatitis?
The actual cause of atopic dermatitis is not entirely established, although it is an autoimmune condition. Healthy skin is able to provide protection from allergens and bacteria, as well as other irritants, but patients who suffer from eczema have skin that cannot provide this protection. There is also a connection to specific types of allergies, such as food allergies, and the incidence of eczema.
What Are the Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis?
It’s important to understand that the symptoms of atopic dermatitis change with age and maturity. In infants and toddlers, as well as younger children, it often first presents as itchy skin. It then progresses to a rash, which may persist for months or even years at a time. Hydrating creams and lotions may be able to ease some of the irritation, but the condition will likely continue to evolve.
In older children and adults, eczema/atopic dermatitis often transforms to dry, flaky skin, and in many instances, it creates a scaly or leathery appearance in patches on the body. The itch is present at all times, and may be worse at night.
Note that additional complications can include being prone to skin infections, suffering from irritant hand dermatitis and/or allergic contact dermatitis, and even sleep problems.
Conventional Treatment Options
There are multiple conventional treatment methods available for atopic dermatitis sufferers. Again, some are effective, and some are not, and most will vary over time with the severity of the condition. Note that none of the available conventional treatments can alleviate symptoms completely, although stem cell therapy may be able to do so. Some of the more commonly used treatment options for eczema include the following:
- Prescription oral medication
- Prescription topical medication
- Light therapy
- Immunosuppressant medications
Stem Cell Therapy and Atopic Dermatitis
As mentioned, none of the available treatment options for eczema offer a cure, and none of them work perfectly. Many come with their own list of side effects. However, stem cells may be able to offer those who suffer from all forms of atopic dermatitis a chance at prolonged prevention of flare-ups.
In a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, the authors found that mesenchymal stem cell therapy provided benefits for those suffering from inflammatory skin diseases, including atopic dermatitis. They noted,
“Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) possess unique immunomodulatory properties which make them a promising tool for the treatment of various inflammatory diseases. Our recent preclinical and clinical studies have shown that MSCs can be successfully used for the treatment of atopic dermatitis (AD).”
Another study published the journal Stem Cells, noted that a single stem cell therapy treatment for patients resulted in significant improvement of their eczema symptoms for up to 12 weeks. The study followed 34 patients randomly assigned a high or low dose of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood (allogeneic stem cells), and 55% of those receiving a high dose showed a 50% reduction in their eczema area and severity index score.
While both of these were preclinical and clinical trials, they were small in scope. Larger trials are in the planning, including the use of a placebo group (not present in the trials noted above).
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Benefit Suffers?
Stem cells are the building blocks of the body, and they also form the core of the body’s regenerative and healing system. As such, they provide significant immunomodulatory properties. In plain English, stem cells are able to modulate the immune system response to a significant extent, alleviating symptoms of autoimmune-related conditions, such as eczema.
However, it is important that the right type of stem cells be used. As mentioned above, the studies involved the use of allogeneic stem cells, not autologous stem cells. There is a significant reason for this.
Autologous stem cells are the most widely used currently, particularly in laboratory research. These are stem cells from the patient’s own body. However, the problem is that these stem cells are as old as the patient, and carry multiple mutations from damage suffered through the various cellular generations.
Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are harvested from umbilical cord blood or cord tissue, and are highly energetic, young cells with no cellular damage. They are also “blank” cells, meaning that they are invisible to the immune system and will not spark an immune attack, or be rejected by the body, something of critical importance when dealing with an autoimmune related condition.
Ultimately, stem cell therapy offers a ray of hope for those suffering from atopic dermatitis and their families. It may ultimately be possible to keep symptoms and flare-ups at bay indefinitely with repeated treatments. However, it is important to note that no stem cell therapy is FDA approved, and all such treatments are considered experimental.