Stem Cells Help Urinary Incontinence?
Researchers See Improvement in Some Patients Who Get Stem Cell Injections
June 28, 2007 -- Injections of stem cells and other cells obtained from a
woman's own body can treat stress urinary incontinence with dramatically better
results than conventional collagen injections, according to a new study from
The results, which mimic those from similar research under way in the U.S.,
might also be long-lasting. "The treatment might have a chance to be
permanent," Giacomo Novara, MD, a doctor at the University of Padua in
Italy, tells WebMD in an email interview. Novara wrote a comment accompanying
the study. Both appear in the June 30 issue of The Lancet.
More than 13 million women in the U.S. suffer from stress urinary
incontinence, a condition much more common in women than in men. The condition
develops as the urethral sphincter muscles, which control the flow of urine,
weaken, typically after childbirth or with age. When a person coughs, sneezes,
or laughs, urine can leak.
The Austrian Study
The Austrian researchers, led by Hannes Strasser, MD, from the Medical
University of Innsbruck, compared the effects of the stem cell injections with
conventional injections of collagen in 63 women with stress urinary
They first performed a small muscle biopsy on the upper arms of the 42 women
assigned to get the stem cell injections. In the laboratory, they retrieved
myoblasts, a type of muscle stem cell, and fibroblasts, cells which form the
structural framework for many body tissues. Both types of cells have been shown
effective in reconstructing the lower urinary tract in animal studies,
according to Strasser.
Next, guided by ultrasound, Strasser's team injected the cells back into the
women's sphincter and surrounding area.
Traditional collagen injections, which don't typically have a high success
rate for incontinence, were given to the other 21 women. Collagen treatments
work by bulking up the area to compress the urethra -- helping to hold
After 12 months, 38 of the 42 women given the stem cell and other cell
injections were completely continent. The other four showed either slight or
substantial improvement. But just two of the 21 who got collagen injections
were continent; seven others showed either slight or substantial
On ultrasound exams after the injections, the thickness of the sphincter had
increased 59% in the women given cell injections but just 9% in the
collagen-treated group. The muscle contractibility rose much more in the cell
group. Increases in the sphincter thickness and muscle contractibility
are thought to help improve symptoms.
Women treated with the injections of cells reported higher quality of life
than the collagen-treated group.
None of the women reported any adverse side effects.
Strasser is a founder and co-owner of the biotechnology company at which the
retrieved cells were prepared, but the company had no role in the research, he