In a small clinical study, a trio of researchers from various universities in Turkey found that stem cell therapy — using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from umbilical cords — has improving patient outlooks with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The researchers, namely Karaoz, Kalemci, and Ece, compared test results before and after the stem cell treatment and recorded distinct improvements among the participants, particularly in terms of their functional capacity (6-minute walk test). The study, entitled “Improving effects of mesenchymal stem cells on symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” is published in the Bratislava Medical Journal and was uploaded online last February 26, 2020.
What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
COPD refers to a group of lung diseases that obstruct airflow and cause difficulty in breathing. Some common examples include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 15.7 million Americans reported having COPD in 2015. In the same year, the World Health Organization estimated that at least 3.71 million people worldwide died from it.
The symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
- Chest pain/tightness
- Coughing or wheezing
COPD is mostly caused by tobacco smoke and exposure to air pollutants. Unfortunately, COPD often remains undetected until its later stages, during which it becomes harder to treat. It cannot be cured and can lead to several complications, including increased risk of heart problems, lung cancer, and even mental illnesses, such as depression. Proper treatment, however, can help reduce the symptoms and reduce overall death risk.
How can MSCs help?
MSCs are multipotent adult cells with self-renewing properties. They are present in several types of tissues and are typically acquired from the bone marrow, fat tissue, and umbilical cord.
Previous pre-clinical studies found that MSCs have beneficial effects on various pulmonary conditions, like asthma and COPD. In this study, the researchers decided to conduct a small clinical trial using umbilical cord tissue-derived (UCTD) MSCs and singled out five patients who had COPD. They did not include patients with co-existing conditions (i.e. active smoking, drug/alcohol abuse, and cancer) for more accurate results. All of the patients were male and had a mean age of 56.
The stem cell treatment consisted of administering the patients a total of four doses of UCTD-MSCs at two-week intervals. The doses were infused directly into the bloodstream. The researchers conducted pre- and post-treatment tests after three months to compare how the patients fared. All tests showed improved marks, but the most noticeable change was recorded in the six-minute walking test. Researchers found that the average walking distance of the patients improved from 307 meters to 362 meters.
The researchers believed their findings showed the potential benefits of using UCTD-MSCs in COPD treatment. The results highlighted how stem cell treatment may help alleviate COPD’s symptoms and offer a better overall quality of life to its patients. Moreover, this is only Phase one of the clinical study. A further exploration of this treatment may help them identify crucial points, such as the optimal dosage and administration route.
With more studies and clinical trials, a deeper understanding of MSCs will change the landscape of the health industry and the stem cell industry.