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Stem Cells Help Urinary Incontinence?

Researchers See Improvement in Some Patients Who Get Stem Cell Injections

Second Opinions

The Austrian study shows "promising results," according to Michael Chancellor, MD, a professor of urology and director of the neurourology and urinary incontinence programs at the University of Pittsburgh.

He has been conducting similar research and presented his findings in May 2007 at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Anaheim, Calif.

In that study, Chancellor and his colleagues injected adult stem cells derived from the person's own muscle into the weakened sphincter and found after a year and half that five of the eight women with urinary incontinence studied got modest improvement; one woman was completely continent. The study was a safety study, considered preliminary, and done in cooperation with the University of Toronto and Health Canada.

In his editorial, Novara calls the study results "impressive" and writes: "If the data are confirmed, this approach is likely to cause a substantial change in the treatment of female urinary incontinence."

If the research bears out, the new approach "may indeed be a true breakthrough in the management of incontinence," says Roger R. Dmochowski, MD, a spokesman for the American Urological Association and director of the Vanderbilt University Continence Center in Nashville, Tenn. "This study has surprisingly good data and actually shows not only durability of the injected tissue but also functionality of that tissue, which is impressive at this time." But he says more follow-up is needed and other researchers need to reproduce the results.

Perspective on Urinary Incontinence

Urologists agree that better options are sorely needed for stress incontinence. Currently, doctors treating women with the condition suggest pelvic floor exercise or Kegels to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, biofeedback to retrain the muscles, or a variety of surgical options. One procedure involves inserting a mesh-like tape that serves as a kind of sling to support the urethra and prevent the involuntary leakage of urine.

Timeline for Stem Cells for Urinary Incontinence

Similar research on injecting a person's own cells for incontinence treatment is ongoing not only in the U.S. and Austria but also in several European centers, according to Novara.

If additional research proceeds on schedule, the cell injection treatment could be available in the U.S. in less than three years, Chancellor estimates.

Dmochowski is less optimistic about the timelines. Look for the new treatment to be available, he says, "not earlier than three to five years from now and possibly as long as seven to 10."

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