About Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme

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Stem Cells Image for Lyme Treatment by Marty Ross MD

Potential of Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme

Lyme can damage the tissues of the body, including the nervous system, joints, muscles, and immune system. This is where stem cell therapy could be helpful.

Stem cells have the potential to develop into a variety of fully functional cells, tissues, and organs. These are undifferentiated cells, without specialized function, that can become fully functional cells with specific functions in the right environment. Stem cells have two major characteristics. First, they have the ability to divide and grow on their own. Second, they can become specific tissues or organs in the right environment. Research also shows that stem cells release various chemicals that can support existing cells, promote cell growth or many kinds of cells, regulate the immune system, and decrease inflammation.

So stem cell therapy shows great potential to help those injured by Lyme disease. Stem cells therapy could heal and repair injured nerves, brain function and thinking, damaged immune systems, injured joints and muscles, impaired hormonal systems, and more.

What The Data Says

However, most with Lyme disease do not appear to benefit from stem cell therapy as it is currently practiced. My Lyme Data, an ongoing research project of lymedisease.org, shows only three percent of patients receiving stem cell therapy report improvements. For more information about this study see: What Alternative Treatments Work for Lyme Disease? What Are Their Side Effects? at lymedisease.org

On the other hand, there are some case reports in the literature which show marked improvement in Lyme disease by people who undergo stem cell therapy using human embryonic stem cells (HESC).

My Lyme Data’s findings are instructive, but could be limited by the small number of people who have had stem cell therapy. Also, not all stem cell therapies are equal. And My Lyme Data does not indicate what type of stem cell therapy people received.

My Observation

Before stopping my clinical practice in late 2018, I did not observe major improvements in most of my patients who tried stem cell therapy either before or after having treatment with me. I did not have any of my active patients pursue this type of therapy while they were under my care.

Types of Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme

At this time, there are a variety of stem cell therapies people use to treat Lyme. Some travel to India and Mexico, to receive human embryonic stem cells (HESC). Due to ethical problems, stem cells from human embryos are not used for stem cell therapy in the United States. In the States, facilities offering stem cell therapy tend to use adipose derived stem cells (ADSC) as part of infusions of what is called stromal vascular fraction (SVF) that is derived from fat tissues. There are other facilities that offer umbilical cord stem cells (UCSC).

As I describe below, the HESC have potential to develop into any type of damaged tissue or organs, while the ADSC are programmed to develop into fat tissues. (Proponents of ADSC and SVF therapy make unproven claims that ADSC can repair most damaged cell lines including fat, bone, muscle, cartlidge, immune, and nerve tissue.) UCSC are programmed to develop into red blood cells and immune cells.

Categories of Stem Cells

There are two general categories of stem cells. These are called pluripotent and adult types. Pluripotent stem cells can develop into any type of tissue or organ in the body. Adult stem cells are programmed to develop into specific tissues and cell lines.  

Pluripotent Stem Cells

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC). Stem cells from embryos are the best known form. In the United States, therapy using HESC is not allowed due to ethical and legal restrictions.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (IPSC). In the laboratory, adult stem cells are genetically modified so they can develop into any type of cell or organ. These are usually derived from skin and blood. These types of stem cells are used in experimental settings only.

Adult Stem Cells

There are a variety of adult stem cells. For instance, research for Multiple Sclerosis has used neurologic stem cells. These neurologic stem cells are programed to develop into nerve and brain tissue. A common stem cell therapy used in non-experimental cancer treatment, is a bone marrow transplant. In this blood stems cells are injected into a patient to promote blood growth in the marrow of bones.

In Lyme disease, one well known California clinic uses adipose derived stem cells (ADSC). ADSC is found in the stromal vascular fraction (SVF) that clinics harvest from sources of a patient’s body fat. ADSC are a form of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). MSC have the ability to develop into the supportive tissues in the body like fat, muscles, bone, and cartilage. ADSC come from fat, so they are programmed to develop into fat cells and tissues. But because ADSC are a form of MSC, they may be able to develop into cartilage, bone and muscle. However, the research is not clear if this happens.

Umbilical cord stems cells (UCSC) come from the umbilical cord blood. These stem cells are programmed to develop into red blood cells and immune system cells. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a number of these products to be used for blood and immune system treatments. In addition to these FDA approved products, some clinics use donated umbilical cord stem cells. Stem cells from the umbilical cord covering and non-blood cells are a form of MSC. Like any MSC, these could develop into into fat, muscles, bone, and cartlidge. UCSC from cord blood likely contains minimal numbers or no MSC at all.

SVF and ADSC Controversy

Using SVF and ADSC is controversial. The issue is many clinics claim that the ADSC can develop and promote healing of a variety of damage tissues like nerve tissue, the immune system, muscles, and cartilage. However, as I stated above, as adult stem cells, ADSC likely only has the ability to become fat cells and fat tissue.

Research does suggest that SVF does contain chemicals that can lower inflammation, modulate the immune system and promote the growth of other cell types. So it is possible, SVF injections may help those with Lyme beyond its ability to promote fat cell formation.

Further research may show that ADSC in SVF does repair damaged nerve, muscle, immune and other cell and tissue types. But this remains to be seen.

UCSC Controversy

Like SVF and ADSC, there are a lot of clinics making unproven claims about UCSC. As I noted above, UCSC contain stem cells that are programmed to become blood and immune cells. But many clinics claim these stem cell treatments can fix the nervous system and other tissues. 

FDA Regulation

At the end of 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published new guidance for the stem cell industry and clinics. This new guidance does not allow clinics and stem cell manufacturers to make claims for stem cells beyond the functional type of the cell without FDA approval of the therapy as a drug. For instance, under the new guidance, clinics using ADSC may only claim the cells promote growth or healing of fat in the body.

The FDA will not pursue strict regulation and enforcement under this new guidance until November of 2020.

My Take

In 2019, I consider stem cell therapy for Lyme disease an experimental treatment of later or last resort. Stem cell therapy holds great promise to repair damage created by the Lyme disease. However, at this time the only form of stem cells that have the greatest chance to repair all tissues are HESC. These are not available in the States and require great expense to obtain in India or Mexico. Also, it is not clear from research if this form of therapy will provide benefit for most, even though there are limited case studies showing improvement in Lyme.

It is possible that SVF injections containing ADSC can help regulate the immune system and decrease inflammation. Beyond that, I am skeptical that these injections repair damaged tissues and cells other than fat cells.

Overtime, I am interested in seeing if a manufacturer obtains approval for using IPSC. As I noted above, these cells have the potential to develop into any kind of damaged cell and tissue in the body. I will continue to follow research in this field. But this type of therapy will likely take years to obtain drug approval through the FDA. Thus, IPSC therapy is years away from any practical use for people suffering from Lyme.

References

Shroff G. Transplantation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease. Am J Case Rep. 2016;17:944-949. Published 2016 Dec 13. doi:10.12659/AJCR.899745

Horowitz R, Freeman PR. Improvement of common variable immunodeficiency using embryonic stem cell therapy in a patient with lyme disease: a clinical case report. Clin Case Rep. 2018;6(6):1166-1171. Published 2018 May 2. doi:10.1002/ccr3.1556

Frese L, Dijkman PE, Hoerstrup SP. Adipose Tissue-Derived Stem Cells in Regenerative Medicine. Transfus Med Hemother. 2016;43(4):268-274.

Bora P, Majumdar AS. Adipose tissue-derived stromal vascular fraction in regenerative medicine: a brief review on biology and translation. Stem Cell Res Ther. 2017;8(1):145. Published 2017 Jun 15. doi:10.1186/s13287-017-0598-y

Trounson A, McDonald C. Stem cell therapies in clinical trials: progress and challenges. Cell Stem Cell. 2017;17:11-21.

Romito A, Cobellis G. Pluripotent Stem Cells: Current Understanding and Future Directions. Stem Cells Int. 2015;2016:9451492.

Food and Drug Administration (2017m). Regulatory considerations for human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue‚Äźbased products: Minimal manipulation and homologous use; guidance for industry and food and drug administration staff; availability. Federal Register, 82(221/Friday, November 17, 2017, 54290–54292. 

Weiss ML, Troyer DL. Stem cells in the umbilical cord. Stem Cell Rev. 2006;2(2):155-62.

Roura S, Pujal JM, Gálvez-Montón C, Bayes-Genis A. The role and potential of umbilical cord blood in an era of new therapies: a review. Stem Cell Res Ther. 2015;6(1):123. Published 2015 Jul 2. doi:10.1186/s13287-015-0113-2

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