U.S. Researchers Still Question Stem Cell Therapy, But Can’t Deny Effectiveness

Some U.S. researchers warn that much remains unknown, still, local patients are going overseas to put their hopes and spend their money on stem cell treatment.

Currently, adult stem cells are being used in numerous clinical trials worldwide to establish their effectiveness in treating patients with cardiovascular diseases. 67 trials are acknowledged by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for investigating how to regenerate damaged heart tissue. But a biotechnology firm is saying that they have already accomplished just that.

The company TheraVitae operates in Thailand and Israel, with pre and post treatment care performed by Dr. Zannos Grekos, a Bonita Springs cardiologist.

Stem cell researchers said that before putting their confidence in procedures like the ones Southwest Floridians are seeking, they want to discern much more about stem cells. The cardiovascular experts contacted for this report did not want to discuss TheraVitae directly.

“There are little niches here and there doing various types of treatments without much science,” said Dr. Carl Pepine at the University of Florida. UF is part of the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research, a five-member consortium conducting research with the backing of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Treating those diagnosed with heart failure and those who have had heart attacks using stem cells is the focus of Pepine’s research.

“Nobody knows what the proper dose is,” Pepine said. “How many cells should you give?”

How soon a patient should receive cells following a heart attack will also be investigated by Pepine’s study.

Sonia Skarlatos says that researchers are trying to determine which variety of stem cell is really responsible for tissue regeneration. Sonia is the acting director for the division of cardiovascular diseases at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

“We are still not sure what is the right cell, what is the right delivery and what is the right dose,” Skarlatos said.

Skarlatos says that it is tough to draw conclusions from the small-scale studies that have been conducted all over the world. Various doses of cells and different types have been used on patients who all have varying degrees of heart functionality.

“It makes it very hard to compare all the trials,” Skarlatos said.

But the one thing that Skarlatos does agree with is that stem cell treatment is safe. And that is good news for patients wanting to at least give the cells a shot at healing their ailments.

Part of the explanation that patients see progress could be due to the development of new vessels that stem cells encourage says Dr. Johnny Huard, the director of stem cell research at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Huard said that too much vascular growth could also be a problem.

Huard is also curious to find out if other parts of the body could also be affected by stem cells injected into the heart.

“One thing is very important: You may inject cells in the heart, but are they migrating?” he said.

50-year-old Neim flew to Bangkok last November for stem cell treatment to heal his deteriorating heart.

He has gotten used to people and their questions about the treatment.

“(My cardiologist) just kept hoping for improvement. Finally, he broke the news. He gave me my time

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