Fairfield County Edition

Stem Cell Treatments for Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disorders are those in which the body’s immune system attacks our own healthy cells and organ systems. Overactivity of the immune system causes an inflammatory response, resulting in a host of conditions that are characterized by the primary body system affected. 

In rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation of the joints results in pain and deformity in areas such as the hands, feet, knees and shoulders. In advanced cases, it is severely debilitating, leaving the sufferer with very limited mobility. In celiac disease, the gastrointestinal tract suffers an immune reaction from eating gluten-containing foods found in wheat and other grains, like rye and barley. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are other conditions in which the gastrointestinal tract is progressively damaged by the inflammatory response of an overactive immune system. 

In multiple sclerosis, the lining of the nerves, called the myelin sheath, is attacked by the immune system. Sufferers become progressively disabled as nervous system control of the muscles, balance and bladder breaks down. There are many other recognized autoimmune conditions such as Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus, Sjogren’s disease, psoriasis, polyneuropathy, polymyalgia and vasculitis. 

Inflammation as the Common Thread

A crucial factor present in all of these conditions is an out of control inflammatory state of the body. Normally, inflammation plays a critical role in the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Inflammation is an integral part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection. It is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders. The problem occurs when, rather than respond to an injury or an invader, the immune system is activated in a pathological manner and reacts against the body itself. This is the underlying mechanism associated with all autoimmune disease. 

The Dangers of Conventional Drug Therapy 

Drug treatments for autoimmune cond-itions suppress the immune system’s activity as a means of controlling the inflammation by which the body damages itself. The problem is that the treatment can become worse than the disease. As the immune system is suppressed by the medication, the patient becomes more susceptible to infection because of the body’s impaired ability to mount an effective immune response. Once infection has occurred, it is more difficult to treat than it would be in a person with an immune system that has not been suppressed by the drug treatment being used. The class of medication known as biologics that are used in a variety of diseases all report cancer as a potential side effect, again related to suppression of the immune system. 

The Hope of Stem Cell-related Therapies 

In a groundbreaking review article of the many studies that have been done regarding the effect of stem cell treatments on various disease states, Dr. Rafael Gonzalez writes that the use of stem cells has been associated with a modulation of the immune system cells functioning, thereby promoting a healthier state. 

There are a number of bio-markers that are considered anti-inflammatory or promoting inflammation, which can be measured in the blood. Measurement of these naturally occurring, biologically active substances shows that the circulating levels of anti-inflammatory substances may be decreased by stem cell treatments. And, at the same time, pro-inflammatory substances can be measurably decreased by stem cell treatments. One well-recognized general blood test which is measured by many physicians as a part of their patient’s yearly physical is called the Cardio-CRP. It carries this name because an elevation of this marker has been shown to correlate with an increased risk of cardiac disease. It also correlates with the development of many other disease states. 

In one study of 172 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the Cardio CRP level was shown to be significantly decreased after stem cell treatment. Two other problematic markers, IL-6 and TNF-alpha, also demonstrated a significant lowering of these markers upon testing after treatment.

A review of the immune-modulating properties of stem cells has shown that when infused throughout the body, stem cells that can migrate to specific inflammation sites have also been shown to promote a non-specific, generalized anti-inflammatory response in the body. This is seen by evaluating various individual cell counts with properties that are promoting or reducing inflammation. The stem cell treatments’ benefits are a modulating effect on the immune system’s functioning cells to try and normalize their function and secretions. This is an alternative approach to the across the board excessive immune suppression that occurs with immunosuppressive drugs.

A class of cells crucial to the immune response is our T cells. These cells can become over-reactive with their excessive functioning underlying the process of autoimmune disease. Studies show that T cells can have their functions more normalized, thereby decreasing their overproduction and reactivity, and lessening the autoimmune pathology of a number of disease states. 

Along with the scientific findings underlying the beneficial effects of stem cell treatments, years of study have shown that they are safe. Although considered “out of the box” and technically still experimental, stem cell treatments are increasingly being utilized by doctors and their patients to benefit those with difficulty treating autoimmune conditions in a safe way. 

Henry C. Sobo, MD, is the medical director of Optimal Health Medical, LLC in Stamford. Along with stem cell treatments, his office offers PRP for joints, hair restoration and erectile dysfunction; allergy evaluation and desensitization; weight loss programs; and intravenous vitamin C and nutrients therapy. See ad, page 36.

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