Scientists have discovered yet another life-giving treatment for disease using adult stem cells, while the number of substantial medical breakthroughs from life-taking embryonic stem cell research remains essentially zero.

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO), also known as Devic’s disease, causes the immune system to react against the body’s own cells in the central nervous system, particularly the eyes and spinal cord. Those who contract the disease usually lose their eyesight and ability to walk within five years.

Stem cells are the body’s cell factories, aiding in growth and damage repair. In a study published Oct. 2 in Neurology, researchers from Northwestern University and the Mayo Clinic tested a new adult stem cell treatment on 12 people with NMO. They drew hematopoietic stem cells (also known as blood stem cells) from the patient’s bone marrow or blood. Then they used chemotherapy to shut down the patient’s malfunctioning immune system. When they transplanted the stem cells back into the patient’s body, the immune system restarted from scratch.

Of the 12 patients, only two relapsed after five years and had to go back to drug therapy. The rest remained well at the five-year mark after the transplant, avoiding expensive treatments that could cost up to $500,000 a year. Additionally, the patients’ blood showed no evidence of the genetic marker AQP4 that is associated with NMO activity.

“No prior therapy has caused AQP4 to consistently disappear or allowed patients to become treatment-free,” said lead author Richard Burt, a professor of medicine and chief of immunotherapy and autoimmune disease at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

The successful NMO therapy provides another example of adult stem cells successfully treating debilitating diseases without the need to kill embryos to harvest their stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research was once thought to hold great promise for regenerative medicine because stem cells from embryos can turn into any cell in the body. But the research destroys the embryos.

Read more at World Magazine 

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