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Stem Cells May Help Treat Incontinence

Study Shows Benefit From Stem Cells Derived From a Patient's Muscle Cells
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 21, 2007 -- For the more than 13 million women in the U.S. who suffer from stress urinary incontinence, stem cells derived from their own muscle cells may improve the condition, a study shows.

"Five of eight women got a modest degree of improvement, and one woman was dry," says Michael Chancellor, MD, a urologist at the University of Pittsburgh.

Chancellor presented the results of a study at the 2007 annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Anaheim, Calif.

At the same meeting, other researchers reported their efforts in obtaining stem cells from the body's fat tissue, from urine, and from human cord blood to treat urinary problems.

Stress incontinence is more common in women than in men. An involuntary loss of urine occurs when a person coughs, sneezes, or laughs.

At the root of the problem is a weakened urethral sphincter, the muscles that control the flow of urine. Childbirth and menopause both raise the risk of women becoming incontinent.

Muscle Stem Cell Study

Chancellor's research focuses on adult stem cells, a type of undifferentiated cell found throughout the human body that can be extracted and then coaxed in the laboratory into becoming different types of cells.

"For the past 10 years, we have been working on muscle-cell-derived stem cells," Chancellor says. The process begins, he says, by taking a small muscle biopsy, then isolating the stem cells. Next, they are grown in a culture and then implanted back into the patient who supplied them to strengthen the weakened sphincter.

"Our average follow-up was a year and a half," he says. "More than half started reporting improvement after three months. Improvement kept getting better for 10 months."

The average follow-up time, he says, was a year and a half. "This was just a safety study," Chancellor says, noting that the study is preliminary. The study was done in cooperation with the University of Toronto and was a clinical trial approved by Health Canada.

Current Treatments

Another treatment option is sorely needed, Chancellor says, for stress urinary incontinence. Currently, doctors suggest women with the condition perform pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, biofeedback to retrain the muscles, or offer them surgery, if the condition is severe or interferes with daily activities.

In one surgery, for instance, a mesh-like tape is inserted as a kind of sling for the urethra, to support it and hold it in place so more normal function returns.

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