Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung condition that obstructs airflow from the lungs. More than 16 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the disease, though it’s estimated that the actual number of people living with COPD could be more than double that number.
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two main types of COPD. Many patients have a combination of both diseases. Unfortunately, there is no cure for either form of COPD—only treatments to slow its progression. Yet, researchers have recently begun to explore regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy, as an alternative approach to managing symptoms of COPD.
What Is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells are the basic building block cells upon which all other tissues are created. These unique cells are found in every organism and:
- can achieve self-renewal through cell division
- can differentiate and take on distinct properties to give rise to specific tissue types as needed
- can be transplanted into other organisms, where they will divide and replicate
As adults, we have stem cells within our body naturally, but these cells don’t activate unless prompted to do so by injury or illness. Yet, they still bear the ability to create new tissue and can regenerate damaged tissue as needed. Researchers have discovered that adult stem cells, also known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), can be extracted from the body through adipose (fat) tissue or bone marrow aspirate, isolated, and then re-administered to help promote healing and regeneration. Stem cells can also be sourced from donated umbilical cord tissue.
How Could Stem Cell Therapy Help COPD Patients?
In COPD patients, several potential lung changes can take place:
- Air sacs and airways become rigid and can no longer stretch to support healthy breathing
- The walls in air sacs become compromised
- The walls of the airways become inflamed and thick
- The airways fill with mucus
These changes impede the flow of air to and from the lungs, making breathing increasingly challenging.
With their unique abilities, stem cells may benefit COPD patients by:
- creating healthy lung tissue, which could replace damaged tissue
- creating a paracrine effect of cell to cell signaling
- differentiate into alveolar cells, lung epithelial cells, vascular and endothelial cells
- minimizing inflammation, thereby reducing future damage
- stimulating the development of small blood vessels in the lung to enhance breathing
Research into the benefits of stem cell therapy for people with COPD is ongoing, and clinical trials are only in phase II currently. During phase II, researchers aim to find out whether a treatment is effective; in phase III, treatments are compared to other modalities.
This alternative therapy option could open up many new possibilities for patients as they research new ways to help manage their COPD symptoms.
This post was written by Becky Palmer, a medical professional at Stemedix Inc. At Stemedix we provide access to Regenerative Medicine, also known as Stem Cell Therapy in Tampa. Regenerative medicine seeks to replace tissue or organs that have been damaged by disease, trauma, or congenital issues.