Beware stem cell therapy for lung disease

Jim Nelson

Clinics in other countries for some time have promised dramatic results in the treatment of lung disease, primarily emphysema, through the use of “autologous stem cells” obtained from the patient. The stem cells are extracted from adipose (fat) tissue, treated and then injected into the patient. The cells then supposedly go to work regenerating and replacing the damaged lung tissue.

Several of this type of clinic are now popping up in parts of the United States, mostly in California and Florida. Their advertisements are filled with testimonials from patients, extolling the virtues of the treatments. The treatments are quite expensive, and would be an absolute godsend for the 30 million Americans who suffer from some stage of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). If they worked.

Trouble is, none of these clinics or their treatments are approved by the FDA, and the only proof of their effectiveness is anecdotal, coming from selected customers.

Anyone with a chronic, progressive disease, such as COPD, will usually find themselves in a situation of desperation, eager to embrace any promises of a “cure.” I have been there, and it is a terrible situation.

Sadly, further research shows that institutions that are working on stem cell therapy for lungs unanimously agree that the successful regeneration of human lung tissue is likely decades away. Dr. Hatch, a British researcher, states that he may be able to announce success in about 20 years. Boston University states that stem cell treatment for lungs may be available for our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Even the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest, which has successfully built working bladders and other of the simpler internal organs, states that we are likely 20 years away from creating a lung.

There have always been those who would separate us from our money with promises of cures of everything from cancer to male pattern baldness. Please beware.

Jim Nelson is a former Glenwood Springs resident who works with regional and national cardiovascular and lung organizations.

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