Regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies are profoundly impacting our world. This biomedical revolution will have as great a societal impact as the development of the Internet and human flight.”

 

The 2018 World Stem Cell Summit rounded off a few ground-breaking months in the field of regenerative medicine and cell-based therapy. The use of these therapies in the treatment of a growing number of diseases and conditions are being described as revolutionary. Some commentators at the Maimi event have gone as far as saying, “Regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies are profoundly impacting our world. This biomedical revolution will have as great a societal impact as the development of the Internet and human flight.”

Comments like these arrive on the back of recent and significant breakthroughs that show the potential of using stem cells to treat cardiac defects such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy. These advances have the potential to add to the growing list of diseases and disorders that are treated and cured by stem cell therapy.

 

Rapid advances in regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies

In 2007, only 40 diseases and conditions were treatable by cord blood stem cell therapy. Today it has doubled to over 80. It breaks the persistent myth that only people with a history of cancer in their families must store stem cells. Instead, the growing number of parents choosing stem cell storage is helping redefine how we understand medicine. Moreover, it is redefining our ability to treat diseases that were not treated adequately in the past. The rapid growth in the number of people choosing to store stem cells is due to the increasing number of potential therapies. At the same time, the increased numbers also contribute to the advances in stem cell therapy.

Recently, the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital announced its participation in a multi-centre collaboration clinical trial using umbilical cord blood in the treatment of HLHS. The aim is to delay or even prevent heart failure in children born with the rare congenital heart defect.

The new three-stage treatment will see umbilical cord blood collected at birth, stored, and then injected into the heart six months later. The hypothesis is that stem cells will stimulate the heart muscle to grow during the first critical year of life, when cardiac cells still have the ability to proliferate. The expectation is that this will lead to the development of a stronger heart in the years following.

This innovation follows on from the success of the Duke University Medical Centre in their study of cord blood as a treatment option for cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorder. As of the 31 October 2017, the same centre also received permission from the FDA to offer cord blood therapy for conditions like autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy under an expanded access clinical trial. This trial allows children who suffer from these neurological disorders to receive therapy with their own cord blood or cord blood from a sibling stored in a private cord blood bank.

 

An opportunity for parents

It is a triple win for patients, family cord blood banks and the Duke University Medical Centre because sibling therapy only requires a partial match, not a perfect match. This opens up the spectrum of treatment significantly in the United States where it is found that 1 in 68 children suffer from autism spectrum disorder and 1 in 323 suffer from cerebral palsy. Worldwide tens of thousands of children could benefit from these recent breakthroughs and the growing access to their innovation.

In the midst of this biomedical revolution, cord blood cell storage has rapidly grown over the past number of years and more than 5 million samples have been stored in family banks worldwide. As such, thousands of parents have been storing blood cells as an investment in the revolution, as we look forward to the still-to-be-discovered benefits to be found in stem cell therapy. As it unfolds, we await further progress and the improvement in the lifestyle of the thousands of people who suffer from stem cell treatable conditions – and the thousands more who may yet suffer from them in future.