Advancements in Stem Cell Therapy
The concept of stem cell therapy has always been rooted in controversy. However, medical researchers are pushing the limits of discovery when it comes to the possibilities of what stem cell therapy can do. Recently, for the second time ever, a stem cell transplant treatment process focusing on blood cancer led to a patient with HIV to enter remission. It was also recently discovered that stem cell functions can be altered to help heal corneal injuries.
HIV essentially affects your body’s immune system. The typical method of treatment involves using antiretroviral medication over the course of your life. By doing this, you’re able to keep HIV levels low in your bloodstream. However, it doesn’t completely kill them off.
Stem Cell Transplant and HIV Remission
Prior to this recent occurrence, a similar event happened in 2009. This individual, known as the Berlin Patient, was also undergoing stem cell therapy to treat cancer when he found that his HIV entered remission. Since then there has no such similar case, until now. The recent case saw a patient in HIV remission for more than a year and a half.
There are many similarities between the two cases. Both were the recipients of stem cell transplants from donors without HIV in an aim to repopulate their immune cell count. Interestingly enough, the stem cells that each donor transplanted came with the same mutation in the CCR5 gene. This gene has a specific function relating to HIV. Its purpose is to encode a specific receptor protein that exists on your immune cells that become infected with HIV.
Additionally, both patients were infected with a strain of HIV that exclusively used the CCR5 gene in addition to the CD4 protein. Many researchers believe this to be the cause for the HIV remission in each patient.
However, in different types of HIV strains, the virus binds itself to cells via a different protein, which is usually CXCR4 instead of CCR5. This type of HIV strain is known to be more drug-resistant and may not be as successful with stem cell treatment. To read more, check out the case study in its entirety here.
The findings are massive for the healthcare industry. Stem cell therapy can be used to significantly reduce the level of stress that HIV places on a patient’s body. Researchers have even found that recipients with stem cell transplants that have different copies of the CCR5 gene are shown at first to have undetectable levels of HIV. This number will return to more normal levels without the supplemental antiretroviral therapy HIV patients typically receive.
This ultimately means that it’s possible that a patient’s HIV-infected cells are largely replaced by uninfected immune cells, it can lead to massive improvements in the lives of HIV patients.
Differences in the Two Cases
One big difference between the two cases was the level of cancer treatment each patient received. The first patient had to undergo an intensive treatment process that included multiple stem cell transplantation as well as radiation therapy. The second patient did not require as intense of a recovery regime. They did not need irradiation for their blood cancer.
Your cornea plays an important role in how our eyesight functions. It is a transparent tissue that helps direct light towards your retina while protecting its exterior.
In a typical corneal injury, your own stem cells are used to repair the cornea. However, if these stem cell reserves are also damaged, such as in chemical injuries, then these stem cells cannot help you recover naturally. Current methods of corneal treatment are often ineffective. Even transplants do not guarantee success.
Stem Cell Transplants and Corneal Injuries
Recently, in a study released by Newcastle University, researchers discovered that during the cornea injury process your stem cells stiffen which hampers their ability to help you heal. They were able to develop a method in which they controlled the stem cell function within the cornea. This can revolutionize the way doctors treat corneal injuries. This has yet to be tested out on humans but has seen success within rabbits.