Stem Cells To The Rescue!
Education and Advocacy Stem cell therapies undergo numerous clinical trials in Canada to optimize their safety and efficacy. However, patients should be wary of illegitimate claims from Canadian and international stem cell clinics offering unproven therapies.
Because hematopoietic stem cells normally make all the red and white blood cells that populate the bone marrow and blood, they are the perfect means for restoring blood components in patients with blood deficiencies. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), known to the general public as bone marrow transplantation (BMT), is a transplant procedure in which hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) derived from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood are infused into patients.
HSCT is by far the most routine stem cell therapy. The procedure is most often performed on patients with leukemia and lymphoma to reverse a side effect of conventional chemotherapy. In addition to killing cancerous cells, the chemotherapy also destroys patients’ stem cells within the bone marrow. An infusion of HSC replaces these cells with healthy ones, restoring the patient’s immune system. Today, there are thousands of new clinical trials underway to explore how to improve HSCT, how best to combine it with other types of therapies, and how to optimize the source of HSC for patients with blood cancers and other blood disorders.
Cancer immunotherapy, a biological therapy that uses natural or artificial substances to imitate or block the natural reactions of a patient’s immune cells, is also very promising for treating blood disorders. The idea is to “educate” the immune system to recognize cancer cells as an enemy that it needs to fight.
While the media talks a great deal about the enormous potential of cell therapies, patients should distinguish approved and effective treatments from unproven therapeutic claims. Many clinics worldwide offer stem cell treatments, including those derived from the patient’s own cells, but the efficacy and safety of these treatments have not always been scientifically proven, or have not received regulatory or ethics approval. Some of these treatments may be harmful. Therapies without any demonstrated efficacy or safety can be dangerous, worsen the overall health of patients, and even put their lives in danger. All of this is referred to as medical tourism. Regulatory authorities are actively targeting these clinics to ensure patient safety, but the public must be aware of illegitimate claims. Before undergoing any treatment locally or abroad, you should always talk it over with your physician. Patients should also know that receiving these treatments could prevent them from participating in legitimate clinical trials here in Canada, where eligibility criteria are very strict.
While cell therapy and regenerative medicine is evolving at an unprecedented pace, the time required to develop treatments can seem incredibly long to patients who have incurable or debilitating diseases. Scientists, doctors, and regulators are concerned about the safety and well-being of Canadians; they must ensure treatments will improve a condition and not cause adverse side effects.
DID YOU KNOW…
The first BMT was performed more than 50 years ago, and it is estimated that over 50,000 bone marrow transplants are performed per year worldwide.
Stem cells were discovered by Canadians James Edgar Till and Ernest McCulloch in 1963 at the University of Toronto!
CellCAN is a not-for-profit organization that is part of the Government of Canada's Networks of Centers of Excellence. Its mission is to bring together stakeholders and mobilize knowledge across Canada to improve on the health of Canadians by accelerating and facilitating the development of stem cell therapies. For more information, visit www.ilovestemcells.ca.