Can you explain what the term "autologous" refers to and what it means to have autologous stem cells "manipulated"?
Autologous (ah-taw-la-gus) means from our own body. To manipulate is to culture the cells in a media of some sort that grows and expands their numbers. The reason for doing this is that to be clinically relevant, it is desirable that millions and millions of stem cells be re-implanted in us. Since we will not produce that amount in an extraction of our own stem cells, it is necessary to grow more cells. This is in no way dangerous or unsafe. It is, in fact, what makes the treatment much more likely to be successful. The FDA says since the laboratory is "manipulating" the cells, that this turns them into prescription drugs. This is utter nonsense and everyone knows it, but it is politics and big money and that is what we are fighting.
The only stem cell treatment that is legal (other than in a FDA approved clinical trial for which there are none for COPD at present) is autologous treatment with no manipulation.
How long did it take for you to see any results?
The first time I got treatment, as I mentioned I got very ill afterwards. When I did get to feeling better, I found I could breathe much easier and do a lot more than I had been able to do before. I now know that this was due to growth factors which eventually wear off. If only I had known then what I know now! Most doctors caution that it can be 30-60-90 days before any results will be felt. It really depends on the mix of the treatment and the type of stem cells that you get, too.
Will you need further treatment to sustain the benefits of stem cell therapy?
Stem cell therapy is in its infancy. The autologous treatments I had in the U.S. were not clinically relevant enough to regenerate lung tissue, but I believe they have done me a world of good. I have a much better outlook on life. I feel good. I feel energized like you would not believe. I am no longer getting sick like I was. I only use Advair and Spiriva prescription inhalers now, but I do use supplements, including a product called Stem Cell Advance which releases stem cells from my own body into my system. I also find things such as curcumin and Vitamin D to be helpful. There is so much going on now and most stem cell doctors do believe that certain supplements and diet can be beneficial in reducing our inflammation which is a big part of the problem with COPD. I feel confident that regeneration is possible and will continue getting stem cell treatment until I achieve that goal.
What do you think the future holds for COPD patients and stem cell treatment?
I think the future is very promising. I believe that stem cell therapy, coupled with supplementation and possibly a few promising things such as HGF and even gene therapy may play key roles. We may see the use of different types of stem cell therapies such as adipose (fat) derived, placental derived, marrow, peripheral blood, umbilical cord or combinations of such used to treat patients. iPS stem cells may be able to act just like embryonic stem cells. Some say they are the fountain of youth. Also, one of my doctors has me eating a lot of broccoli and dark cherries. There really is something to that everyone.
Do you think President Obama's health care reform ideas will have any bearing on stem cell research and treatment?
Unfortunately, health care reform doesn't even touch on stem cell research or treatments. If stem cell treatment could reverse disease in the millions of people that suffer from terminal and chronic conditions, billions and billions of dollars could be saved in health care costs. President Obama lifted the federal funding restrictions for embryonic stem cell research. He has not intervened with the FDA's declaration of our own stem cells being drugs. I believe he needs to do this as adult stem cell therapy already has thousands of science based treatments under its belt, thousands of peer reviewed published articles available and so it is much more "ready to go" than controversial embryonic stem cell research. The U.S. is also losing out economically as more and more people seek treatment outside the U.S. because nothing is available here for them. There are currently NO clinical trials for COPD using stem cells in the U.S. There was one trial done by a private company, Osiris, but unfortunately, it does not look promising. Their trial used all mesenchymal stem cells, which according to researchers that I know, cannot regenerate lung tissue sufficiently enough to improve lung function without using other types of stem cells as well. I believe that the current health care reform bills will hinder, not foster better care for us.
What would you tell other COPD patients who are interested in stem cell therapy?
I would tell them that stem cell therapy has changed my life. However, I implore people not to just run out and spend all of their money on stem cell therapy without taking a lot of time to research and learn about what is happening in the industry. I see so many people reading testimonials from websites and then wanting to rush and get treatment. There is too much at stake to not research as many companies as one can and then deciding what is best for you. Some people do not seem to notice any improvement after treatment, but then they discover that they are feeling better or that they may not be declining as rapidly as they were and this to me is success, although not the regeneration that we all are seeking. I work closely with many researchers and doctors and it is amazing what they are coming up with. I would never have been able to be doing what I am doing without having made that first step. I hope to make a difference to my fellow sufferers for the pioneering I do and I know that others who are doing the same feel that way too. My friend who went with me for our first therapy and I remain the best of friends, forum co-founders and now business partners, which is yet another reason I think I made the right choice.
Barbara Hanson continues to be a strong advocate for the advancement of stem cell research and treatment in the United States. On behalf of About.com and myself, I would like to thank her for this interview.