Generally abbreviated as IC, and sometimes called painful bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis is a painful condition that affects the bladder. It can cause pain and swelling, but it can also be difficult to diagnose, as the full range of symptoms is very wide. The condition can also present with a host of severities, and individual situations can escalate quickly. However, stem cell therapy may be able to offer patients relief from the pain and discomfort.
What Is IC?
Before diving into how stem cell therapy works with IC, it’s important to fist establish what this condition actually is. IC is a painful condition in which the bladder may feel under pressure, or the patient may experience bladder pain. In some cases, the patient may experience pain radiating throughout the pelvis. Interstitial cystitis involves the mixing of the normal signals the bladder uses to tell the brain it is full and must be emptied.
Generally, the expansion of the bladder with urine triggers a signal sent from the bladder to the brain that we interpret as the urge to urinate. However, patients with IC feel that urge much more frequently, often with little or no urine in the bladder. In some cases, the urge can be incredibly painful. There is currently no cure for IC, although stem cell therapy shows great promise in reducing the intensity of pain and discomfort related to interstitial cystitis.
What Are the Symptoms of IC?
As mentioned, patients suffering with interstitial cystitis may experience any of a wide range of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include pain in the bladder and the frequent, often intense, urge to urinate. Pelvic pain is also a common symptom.
Because IC is more commonly seen in women, pain between the vagina and anus is a commonly reported symptom. Other symptoms can include pain while the bladder fills, although without the urge to urinate until the bladder is full. Pain during sex is also a possible symptom, as is frequent urination (with or without much volume).
What Causes IC?
The exact cause of interstitial cystitis is not known. However, there are quite a few potential contributing factors. Most people who suffer from IC also have a defect in the lining of the bladder that may allow toxins within urine to irritate the bladder wall itself. There are also potential autoimmune factors, and allergies may also play a role.
Individuals with fair skin and red hair are at a higher risk for developing the condition, and women in general are more likely to develop IC than are men. In addition, those with other chronic pain/inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, are at a greater risk.
How Can IC Be Treated?
There is currently no cure for interstitial cystitis, and the treatment options vary in terms of effectiveness. Physical therapy (training pelvic muscles) may work for some patients, but for others, the only solution is to take a prescription medication, such as hydroxyzine, pentosane, or amitriptyline. However, stem cell therapy is an emerging option that should be considered.
How Can Stem Cell Therapy Help?
Stem cell therapy has shown significant potential in treating a wide range of conditions in which inflammation is one of the major underlying factors. This includes interstitial cystitis. A study published through the Asan Medical Center points out,
“Innovative strategies have been tested with animal models of IC/BPS and have shown promising therapeutic effects for reversing the symptoms of this disorder.”
Another study published in the journal Stem Cells cited the results of a clinical trial in which mesenchymal stem cells were used to treat the symptoms of IC. The authors state,
“This study evaluated the therapeutic potency of using human umbilical cord-blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UCB-MSCs) to treat IC in a rat model and to investigate its responsible molecular mechanism. IC was induced in 10-week-old female rats via the instillation of 0.1 M HCL or phosphate buffered saline.
After 1 week, human UCB-MSC or PBS (IC) was directly injected into the submucosal layer of the bladder. A single injection of human UCB-MSCs significantly attenuated the irregular and decreased voiding interval in the IC group. Accordingly, denudation of the epithelium and increased inflammatory responses, mast cell infiltration, neurofilament production, and angiogenesis observed in IC bladders were prevented.”
In short, the application of human stem cells (derived from cord blood) was able to not only reduce symptoms in the rats studied, but to improve the thickness and coverage of the bladder’s lining and to improve overall bladder health.
The Right Type of Stem Cells
The second study noted above focused on using what are called allogeneic stem cells. That is, stem cells derived not from your own body (autologous stem cells), but from donated cord blood and cord tissue. These mesenchymal stem cells harvested from donated umbilical cord of a healthy newborn are invisible to the immune system, which means they have no potential for rejection or other complications. There is also the fact that they are young and energetic, whereas adult stem cells harvested from fat or other body tissues are as old as your body, and have accumulated significant damage and mutations over time.
How Are Stem Cells Introduced?
Allogeneic stem cells can be introduced to the body in two ways – they can be directly injected into the lining of the bladder, or they can be infused into the body through an IV. Both methods offer benefits and effective treatment, but it is important to discuss with your physician which treatment approach is best suited for your specific situation, needs and health goals.
Ultimately, mesenchymal stem cells offer the chance to live a normal, healthy life to individuals suffering from interstitial cystitis. Not only does this treatment method promise to alleviate painful, debilitating symptoms, but it may be possible to reverse the condition entirely. Note that no stem cell treatments are currently approved by the FDA, though, and all options available are considered experimental.