Monday, 26 July 2010

Cord blood banking; what to advise regarding stem cell therapies

My response to a question about banking cord blood from a newborn baby to treat a family member with severe MS.

"The potential of stem cell therapies for neurological conditions has been over-hyped by both the basic scientists involved and the media. This is great pity as it raises false expectations of a breakthrough for vulnerable people with disabling conditions.

At present the research is a long way from reaching the clinic with some early exploratory safety studies underway in the UK and elsewhere. The science suggests that mesenchymal stem cells, i.e. those derived from skin, and bone-marrow derived stem cells may work as immunomodulatory therapies rather than as a neuro-restorative therapies; this means that they will be of benefit early in the course of the disease to modify the clinical course. They will not help people who are already disabled.

Embryonic stem cells, which are derived from foetal tissue, are unlikely to be used in humans as they have a propensity to cause primitive tumours because of their ability to differentiate in numerous cell types; there are several reports of this occurring already. In my opinion, routine storage of cord blood cells should therefore be done for altruistic reasons to support research. To do it specifically for an unproven therapy or a potential therapy in the future cannot be recommended at this stage."

2 comments:

  1. Prof G,

    You say that mesenchymal stem cells will not help people who are already disabled. Is there anything on the horizon for those with mild or severe disabiliy caused by MS? It's a big ask to expect people with MS to become more and more disabled without any hope - I suppose that's why Dignitas is doing a reasonable trade!

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  2. At the moment there is little we have to reverse fixed disability. We are simply trying to be honest and don't want to PwMS to have unrealistic expectations.

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