Tens of millions of Americans suffer from some form of lung disease. These chronic conditions rob them of their quality of life, and may eventually lead to death. While a number of treatment options can be used to slow the advance of these diseases, there is no cure. However, stem cell therapy may be able to offer a ray of hope.
What Are Lung Diseases?
Lung diseases are among the most common medical conditions diagnosed. A wide range of such conditions exists, and they can be caused by a host of different factors. Some of the most common lung diseases include COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, lung cancer, ARDS, pneumoconiosis, and more.
What Causes Lung Disease?
Lung diseases can be caused by many different factors. In some instances, it’s an infection. In others, it is cellular mutation (cancer). In yet others, it is exposure to toxins found in cigarette smoke, exhaust, or other environmental factors, including the presence of asbestos.
Symptoms of Lung Disease
The symptoms a patient experiences will vary drastically depending on the lung disease in question. For instance, COPD is marked by a difficulty in exhaling properly, which makes breathing normally impossible. In chronic bronchitis, the patient may experience tightness in their chest and a chronic cough, and in cystic fibrosis, patients may experience mucus accumulations in the lungs.
Treatment Options for Lung Disease
There are few effective treatment options for lung diseases, and there are no cures. In many instances, patients only have access to treatment options that slightly improve their quality of life, and do not really lessen the symptoms they experience. For instance, patients with COPD may be required to use a supplemental oxygen supply to help improve their breathing capabilities, but this does nothing to actually address their inability to exhale properly. This lack of effective treatment options leaves tens of millions of people in the US alone dealing with a reduced quality of life, limited physical capabilities due to breathing difficulties, and even a shortened lifespan.
The Possibility of Stem Cell Therapy for Lung Disease
Stem cell therapy is one of the most heavily studied treatment options in the world, and is being applied to virtually every imaginable disease and health condition. That includes being studied for its use in addressing lung diseases. If stem cells are infused IV they initially concentrate and multiply in the lungs, so lung diseases are especially suited to be treated with stem cells.
According to a study published in the European Respiratory Review, the authors note,
“Cell therapies offer a novel therapeutic approach due to their inherent anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic properties. Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) are the most studied cell product. Numerous preclinical studies demonstrate an improvement of disease-associated parameters after MSC administration in several lung disorders, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Furthermore, results from clinical studies using MSCs for the treatment of various lung diseases indicate that MSC treatment in these patients is safe.”
How Do Stem Cells Work?
Our bodies have the ability to repair themselves and regenerate over time. The same process that heals a cut on your hand is also at work inside your body, within each organ and system. We’ve learned over time that much of this healing and regeneration is due to what are called adult stem cells – the body’s core regenerative cells and healers.
To be clear, stem cells are present in the body at all times and all ages. They are heavily concentrated in infants, and slowly decline over the course of time. This is one reason that the majority of babies born are healthy, and that most infants are able to heal quickly. In comparison, it takes older children and teens commensurately longer to heal, and adults need even more time. Seniors may have a very difficult time healing from even simple wounds.
This is due to the decline in the number of stem cells in the body, but also to the decline in functionality and effectiveness in the cells that remain. Stem cells are able to regenerate themselves and replicate themselves over time (cloning, essentially). However, each regeneration carries minute mutations. Over time, these mutations add up, and eventually the cell is unable to function as it once was.
This is important to understand for the next part of our discussion – autologous versus allogeneic stem cells and their use in treating lung diseases.
Autologous vs. Allogeneic Stem Cells: Not All Created Equal
There are two types of stem cells used in treating most health conditions. Autologous stem cells are derived from your own body. That means they have the same drawbacks we discussed above – they’re old, less energetic, less widely available, and carry mutations. This means they are far less effective in treatment methods, and may ultimately end up triggering an autoimmune response and being rejected by the body.
In comparison, allogeneic stem cells suffer from none of those problems. This is because they are not harvested from your body. Instead, they are derived from screened and banked umbilical cord blood and tissue. These young cells are present in significantly higher concentrations, are highly energetic, and offer significant effectiveness.
While there is a great deal of promise in stem cell therapy for lung diseases, there is no FDA-approved treatment currently available. All such treatments are considered experimental. If you are interested in stem cell therapy and its potential to affect your lung disease, or that of a loved one, your choice in physician matters a great deal. The physician should be able to create an individualized treatment plan based on your specific condition, and should use only allogeneic stem cells. They should also have experience with various administration methods (IV infusion, direct injection, etc.) to ensure the best possible outcome.