What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the patient’s immune system generates cellular and antibody responses to various components of the joint such as type I collagen. As a result of this immune response, not only does joint destruction occur, but also other secondary complications such as pulmonary fibrosis, renal damage, and even heart damage.
Can stem cells help treat rheumatoid arthritis?
Newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis is currently treated with immune suppressive agents such as steroids, methothrexate, cyclosporine, gold, and more recently infliximab (Remicade). Despite inducing temporary improvement, these approaches possess long-term adverse effects due to non-specific inhibition of immune responses. When disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate are not effective, biologics like abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira) or etanercept (Enbrel) may be recommended. None of these treatments address the issue of damage that has already occurred to the joints or extra-articular tissues.
Even though advancements in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment protocols and introduction of targeted biological therapies have markedly improved patient outcomes, up to 50% of patients still fail to achieve a significant clinical response.
Stem cell therapy has been demonstrated to induce profound healing activity in animals with various forms of arthritis. For example, the company Vet-Stem routinely utilizes stem cells in horses with various joint deformities to accelerate healing. Besides healing of damaged tissues, stem cells have the unique ability to modulate the immune system so as to shut off pathological responses while preserving ability to fight off disease.
Stem cells and specifically, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) home to inflamed tissue and start producing anti-inflammatory agents. These mediators act locally and do not suppress the immune response of the patient’s whole body. Additionally, MSCs induce the production of T regulatory cells, a type of immune cell whose function is to protect the body against immunological self-attack.
A recent study on MSCs for rheumatoid arthritis (Human Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for Patients with Active Rheumatoid Arthritis: Safety and Efficacy) showed that MSCs produced a significant decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and TNF-α, both of which are temporarily targeted by many current RA treatments. – without the long-term side effects. These decreases are shown in Figure 5 from the original publication.
Which kinds of stem cells are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and how are they obtained?
The Stem Cell Institute uses adult stem cells called allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These cells are harvested from human umbilical cords donated after normal, healthy births. All mothers who donate umbilical cords undergo infectious disease testing and medical history screening. Proper written consent is obtained from each family prior to umbilical cord donation.
All mesenchymal stem cells harvested from umbilical cords are screened for infectious diseases to International Blood Bank Standards before they are cleared for use in treatments.
Only a small percentage of umbilical cords pass our rigorous screening process.
Dr. Riordan on the Umbilical Cord Selection Process at Stem Cell Institute
“Through retrospective analysis of our cases, we’ve identified proteins and genes that allow us to screen several hundred umbilical cord donations to find the ones that we know are most effective. We only use these cells and we call them ‘golden cells’.
We go through a very high throughput screening process to find cells that we know have the best anti-inflammatory activity, the best immune modulating capacity, and the best ability to stimulate regeneration.”
Our stem cells and the US FDA
Human umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that were isolated and grown in our laboratory in Panama to create master cell banks are currently being used in the United States.
These cells serve as the starting material for cellular products used in MSC clinical trials for two Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy patients under US FDA’s designation of Investigational New Drug (IND) for single patient compassionate use. (IND 16026 DMD Single Patient)
What are the advantages of treating with allogeneic human umbilical cord tissue (HUCT)-derived mesenchymal stem cells?
- Allogeneic stem cells can be administered multiple times over the course of days in uniform dosages that contain high cell counts.
- The stem cells with the best anti-inflammatory activity, immune modulating capacity, and ability to stimulate regeneration can be screened and selected.
- Umbilical cord tissue provides an abundant supply of mesenchymal stem cells.
- No need to collect stem cells through invasive procedures such as liposuction or bone marrow collection
- Since HUCT mesenchymal stem cells are immune system privileged, cell rejection is not an issue and Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matching is not necessary.
- There is a growing body of evidence showing that mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cords are more robust than mesenchymal stem cells from other sources such as fat.
The body’s immune system is unable to recognize human umbilical cord tissue (HUCT)-derived mesenchmyal stem cells as foreign and therefore they are not rejected. HUCT stem cells have been administered thousands of times at the Stem Cell Institute and there has never been a single instance rejection (graft vs. host disease). Umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells also proliferate/differentiate more efficiently than “older” cells, such as those found in the fat and therefore, they are considered to be more “potent”.
In this next video (just past the 1 minute mark), Arnold Caplan, PhD explains the mechanism by which donor mesenchymal stem cells shield themselves from the recipient’s immune system. Dr. Caplan is the scientist who discovered the mesenchymal stem cell. He is commonly referred to as “the father of the mesenchymal stem cell”.
How are mesenchymal stem cells administered for rheumatoid arthritis treatment?
They are typically given intravenously (IV) over the course of a few days.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Stem Cell Treatment *Protocol
Below is an example of a typical 4-day rheumatoid arthritis treatment protocol.
- Medical evaluation and blood testing
- 6 IV injections of allogeneic umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells
- 1-month supply of Stem Kine supplement (only after medical evaluation in Panama)
*Includes Hilton hotel room with breakfast, WIFI, transportation from and to the airport with VIP airport gate service and expedited customs clearance upon arrival, and transportation between the Hilton and Stem Cell Institute.
*After examining each patient’s medical history and other medical information our team of physicians will recommend a specific treatment protocol. Your recommended protocol may differ from the example given above.
Will anyone follow up with me after I return home?
Proper follow-up helps us evaluate the effectiveness of our treatments and improve our treatment protocols based on observed outcomes. Therefore, one of our medical staff will contact you regularly to monitor your progress. You will be contacted after 1 month, 3 months, 4 months, and 1 year.
Are there any successfully treated patients with whom I can speak?
Of course there are. A number of our treated rheumatoid arthritis patients have volunteered to speak with prospective patients after treatment approval. Your patient coordinator will be happy to put you in touch with them at the appropriate time.
You may also view rheumatoid arthritis patient news, stories and videos. Please take a look!
How can I contact the Stem Cell Insititue?
You may contact us by telephone 1 (800) 980-STEM (toll-free in US) and 1 (954) 358-3382.
Apply for treatment today
To apply for stem cell treatment, please complete this Patient Application Form.
Antigen Specific Therapy of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Ichim T. Zheng X, Suzuki M, Kubo N, Zhang X, Min L, Beduhn M, Riordan N, Inman R, Min W.
– Expert opin. Biol. Ther. 2008; 8(2): 191-199
Human Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for Patients with Active Rheumatoid Arthritis: Safety and Efficacy
Liming Wang, Lihua Wang, Xiuli Cong, Guangyang Liu, Jianjun Zhou, Bin Bai, Yang Li, Wen Bai, Ming Li, Haijie Ji, Delin Zhu, Mingyuan Wu and Yongjun Liu
Stem Cells Dev. 2013 Dec 15;22(24):3192-202. doi: 10.1089/scd.2013.0023. Epub 2013 Oct 4.