The medical community is shining a light on stem cells and their use to treat a variety of conditions. Doctors in the Tampa Bay area are sharing the innovative ways stem cell treatments could dramatically change lives.
“Stem cells are the building blocks of life,” said Dr. Leslie Miller.
Through the years, research continues into the use of stem cells.
“Stem cells are actually what we call it as pluripotent cells in the body, which it’s basically kind of cells which can actually regenerate multiple times. They don’t even die, and they can actually differentiate into various forms of cells in your body,” said Dr. Deepak Chellapandian.
Dr. Chellapandian specializes in bone marrow transplant as a hematologist/oncologist and serves as the Director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy for Non-Malignant Conditions in the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute.
Historically, he says stem cells have been used for treating malignant diseases, like leukemias or lymphomas, but he says stem cells have been increasingly used in a wide variety of non-cancer conditions, like genetic disorders.
“Even a sickle cell disease is a genetic problem. It’s a genetic condition,” said Dr. Chellapandian. “They’re born with this particular mutation in one of those hemoglobin manufacturing genes, which actually makes them have sickle cell disease, which is not curable without a stem cell transplantation, so stem cell transplantation is being increasingly used in a lot of these conditions.”
“I think the excitement for me is the advances in our understanding of how stem cells work,” said Dr. Leslie Miller.
Dr. Miller says he thinks it’s important for people to realize that there are stem cell trials being conducted for every condition in the body around the world. Miller is the Director of Heart Failure Research at Morton Plant Hospital.
“I have been involved with stem cell therapy for almost 15 years across the board, and we started with acute heart attack, and now we’re looking at other ways that we can deliver these cells more effectively for, as I said, acute stroke,” said Miller. “Really exciting news about the impressive recovery of preventing stroke at the time they’re having it to prevent the downside of that.”
Dr. Chellapandian also shared the next level of transplantation: gene therapy.
“We take patients stem cells out of their body, and we actually do certain manipulation and introduce the defective gene into the stem cells and put it back into the patients so that the gene that was defective in the patient can actually be corrected or could be replaced with a normal gene, and they can actually have a normal, functioning protein from that gene,” said Chellapandian. “The gene therapy option is very novel, very unique for certain conditions and also in very early phases of clinical trial and development, but it seems very promising already in a lot of these conditions.”
But is it all a hope or just a hype as we look to the future? Dr. Miller explains.
“I think that it’s certainly not going to be considered hype. I think it’s going to meet the promise that it is the body’s primary mechanism of healing injury,” said Miller. “We know this is, we just have to learn how to use them most effectively, but I’m really more encouraged than when I began about the potential for this therapy.”