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Adult Stem Cells May Treat Many Diseases

Study Suggests Benefits for Patients With Autoimmune Diseases and Heart Disease
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 26, 2008 -- Adult stem cells harvested from either blood or bone marrow hold promise for the treatment of a wide range of autoimmune diseases and heart disease, a research review shows.

Since the late 1990s, adult stem cell therapy has been used experimentally to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and several other diseases of the immune system, as well as heart disease.

Northwestern University researcher Richard Burt, MD, and colleagues summarize results from roughly 60 of these studies involving about 2,400 patients in a review published in tomorrow's edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Burt pioneered the research on adult stem cells for the treatment of autoimmune disease. He tells WebMD that the potential uses for stem cell therapy are only now beginning to be understood.

"Traditional medicine is about three approaches -- drugs, surgery, and radiotherapy," he says. "Stem cell therapy represents a fourth arm of treatment that in some cases will be combined with other treatments and in other cases will stand alone. We are seeing the tip of the iceberg right now."

Stem Cell Patients Tell Their Stories

Barry Goudy, 48, and Tom Van Lieshout, 76, are both believers. Both are Burt's patients.

Goudy had battled multiple sclerosis for eight years before having a transplant of stem cells taken from his own blood five years ago this summer.

"I played hockey and racquetball and had always been very athletic, but I just couldn't do it anymore," he says. "I got to the point where I couldn't walk up the stairs without dragging my leg."

Goudy spent a month in the hospital, including five days of chemotherapy to knock out his immune system. But he tells WebMD he has been free of MS symptoms ever since.

He says he's now playing hockey and racquetball again, and is "living my life."

"I've had five good years that I wouldn't have had," the Detroit automobile sales representative says.

Tom Van Lieshout was facing the amputation of his right leg due to circulation complications from diabetes when he had a stem cell transplant in January 2005.

He says he was in such excruciating pain before having the treatment that he could only walk 50 to 100 yards at a time.

"When I went into the hospital I walked from the parking ramp to the entrance, which was a couple hundred yards, and I had to stop three times," he tells WebMD. "Just a few days after [the transplant] I was able to walk three blocks to the drugstore and back."

Stem Cell Therapy

Much of the attention and all of the controversy surrounding stem cell therapy has focused on embryonic stem cells -- cells harvested four to five days after an embryo is fertilized.

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