Stem Cell Therapy for Neurological Disorders

By:

Louis A. Cona, MD

Reviewed:

Robert J. Hancock

Unlock the healing power of stem cell therapy for neurological disorders with our cutting-edge treatments. Discover how breakthrough stem cell research can improve your quality of life.

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Neurological disorders can be debilitating and life-altering. Aging is a multifaceted process that impacts various aspects of the human body. One area that can be negatively affected by aging is the development of brain disorders and the body's natural stem cells, known as endogenous stem cells. However, stem cell therapies promise to reduce the neurological symptoms associated with these diseases.

In recent years, stem cell therapy for neurological disorders has emerged as a promising treatment option. This article explores how stem cells can treat neurological conditions, the advantages and disadvantages of this therapy, its success rates, and the best stem cell therapy centers worldwide.

Types of Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders are diseases affecting the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. They can manifest in various ways, including cognitive decline, movement disorders, seizures, and pain. Some common neurological disorders include:

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Stroke

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Overview of Stem Cell Therapy for Neurological Conditions

Stem cell therapy involves using stem cells, which are unspecialized cells capable of developing into various cell types (including human neural stem cells), treating diseases, or repairing damaged tissues. Stem cells can self-renew and differentiate into specialized cells, making them an ideal candidate for treating multiple medical conditions, including neurological disorders.

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How Stem Cell Therapy Works for Neurological Disorders

Stem cell therapy has emerged as a promising avenue for treating neurological disorders. Although the exact mechanisms may vary depending on the specific disease, several standard processes have been identified through peer-reviewed studies that contribute to the therapeutic effects of stem cells in neurological conditions. Some of functions of transplanted cells include:

  1. Neuroprotection: Stem cells, particularly mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), have been shown to provide neuroprotection by secreting neurotrophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), which promote neuronal survival and reduce apoptosis (Lu et al., 2005).

  2. Immunomodulation: Stem cells, particularly MSCs, have demonstrated immunomodulatory properties by suppressing the activation of pro-inflammatory immune cells, such as T cells and macrophages, and promoting the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) (Uccelli et al., 2008).

  3. Angiogenesis: Stem cells, particularly MSCs, have been shown to promote the formation of new blood vessels by secreting pro-angiogenic factors, such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) (Kinnaird et al., 2004). This process improves blood flow, oxygen, and nutrient delivery to the injured tissue, promoting healing.

  4. Differentiation into neural cells: Stem cells, particularly neural stem cells (NSCs), can differentiate into various neural cell types, such as neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes (Gage, 2000). This ability allows stem cells to directly contribute to repairing and regenerating the damaged nervous tissue by replacing lost or damaged cells.

  5. Modulation of glial scar formation: Glial scar formation can inhibit nerve regeneration in the central nervous system (CNS) following injury. Stem cells, particularly MSCs, have been shown to modulate glial scar formation by reducing the proliferation of astrocytes and promoting the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which help break down the scar tissue (Zhang et al., 2013). This modulation may facilitate nerve regeneration by removing physical barriers to nerve growth.

Several peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated the therapeutic potential of stem cell therapy in specific neurological disorders:

  1. Parkinson's disease: Studies have shown that transplantation of stems cell-derived dopaminergic neurons into animal models of Parkinson's disease can improve motor function and alleviate symptoms (Kim et al., 2002).

  2. Multiple sclerosis (MS): In a preclinical study, the transplantation of MSCs in an animal model of MS resulted in reduced inflammation and demyelination, as well as improved neurological function (Zappia et al., 2005).

  3. Stroke: A study by Chen et al. (2001) showed that transplantation of NSCs in a rat stroke model resulted in improved functional recovery, reduced infarct size, and increased angiogenesis.

  4. Spinal cord injury: In a study by Hofstetter et al. (2002), transplantation of NSCs into a rat model of spinal cord injury resulted in improved functional recovery and increased regeneration of damaged axons.

  5. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): In a preclinical study, the transplantation of MSCs in an animal model of ALS led to a delay in disease progression and prolonged survival of motor neurons (Boucherie et al., 2009).

  6. Alzheimer's disease: A study by Blurton-Jones et al. (2009) showed that transplantation of NSCs in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease resulted in the reduction of amyloid-beta plaques, increased neurogenesis and improved cognitive function.

It is important to note that while these studies provide promising evidence for the therapeutic potential of stem cell therapy in neurological disorders, further research, including well-designed clinical trials, is needed to fully understand the mechanisms, optimize treatment protocols, and establish the safety and efficacy of these therapies in humans.

The Role of Stem Cells

In the context of neurological disorders, stem cells play a crucial role in repairing damaged neural tissue and promoting the regeneration of neurons. They can differentiate into various cell types, including neurons, glial cells, and other supporting cells in the nervous system.

Types of Stem Cells

There are different types of stem cells used in therapy, including:

  • Embryonic stem cells (ESCs)

  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)

  • Adult stem cells, such as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)

Mesenchymal stem cells, derived from bone marrow or other adult tissues, are commonly used for treating neurological disorders due to their ability to differentiate into various cell types and secrete growth factors that promote tissue repair.

The Process of Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy for neurological disorders usually involves the following steps:

  1. Harvesting stem cells from the patient or a donor

  2. Processing and expanding the stem cells in a laboratory

  3. Reintroducing the stem cells into the patient's body, typically through an injection

  4. Monitoring the patient for any side effects or complications

Stem Cell Therapy for Specific Disorders

Stem cell therapy has shown great potential for treating various neurological disorders. By harnessing the unique properties of stem cells, such as their ability to differentiate, secrete growth factors, and modulate the immune system, researchers are developing therapies to target specific neurological conditions. Here are some examples of how stem cell therapy can be used for specific neurological disorders:

1) Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is characterized by the progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, leading to motor and non-motor symptoms.  Stem cell therapy for Parkinson's has shown promising results in preclinical and early clinical trials, with stem cells differentiating into dopamine-producing neurons and alleviating some symptoms.

Stem cell therapy can potentially replace the lost dopaminergic neurons by transplanting stem cells that differentiate into dopaminergic neurons, restoring dopamine production and alleviating symptoms.

Current Research

Recent research has shown that mesenchymal stem cells administered intravenously may be an effective treatment for Parkinson's Disease. These cells can differentiate into multiple cell types, including dopaminergic neurons, lost in Parkinson's Disease.

A 2018 study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website found that intravenous administration of mesenchymal stem cells improved motor function and quality of life in patients with Parkinson's Disease. The study involved 60 patients who received either mesenchymal stem cells or a placebo. Patients who received mesenchymal stem cells showed significantly improved motor function and quality of life compared to those who received a placebo.

Another 2020 study published on the NCBI website found that mesenchymal stem cells derived from umbilical cord tissue had neuroprotective effects in Parkinson's Disease. The study involved injecting mesenchymal stem cells into the brains of rats with Parkinson's Disease-like symptoms. The results showed that the stem cells improved motor function and reduced inflammation in the brain. (2)

Advantages of Mesenchymal stem cells

Mesenchymal stem cells have several advantages over other types of stem cells for treating Parkinson's Disease. They have solid immunomodulatory properties, meaning they can regulate the immune system and prevent inflammation, a common problem in Parkinson's Disease. They also have low immunogenicity, which means they are less likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system.

Overall, using mesenchymal stem cells administered intravenously is a promising treatment option for Parkinson's Disease. Further research is needed to evaluate this treatment's safety and efficacy fully, but early results have been promising. Patients with Parkinson's Disease should discuss stem cell therapy with their doctor to determine if it is a viable treatment option.

2) Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous system. It damages the protective myelin sheath around nerve fibers, leading to a range of neurological symptoms. Stem cell therapy for MS aims to modulate the immune system to reduce inflammation, protect the existing myelin, and promote remyelination by differentiating stem cells into oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for producing myelin.

3) Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease affecting motor neurons responsible for controlling muscle movement. Stem cells and ALS research has demonstrated the potential of stem cells to slow down the progression of the disease and improve the patient's quality of life.  Stem cell therapy for ALS protects motor neurons from degeneration by promoting neuroprotection and immunomodulation. Additionally, stem cells can potentially differentiate into motor neurons, providing a source of replacement cells.

4) Stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted, leading to brain tissue damage. Stem cell therapy for stroke aims to promote the regeneration of damaged brain tissue and improve neurological function. Studies have shown that stem cell therapy can improve motor function and reduce disability in stroke patients.

In the aftermath of a stroke, stem cell therapy can promote neuronal survival, reduce inflammation, and stimulate angiogenesis to improve blood flow in the affected brain areas. Stem cells can also differentiate into neural cells, such as neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes, to replace damaged or lost cells and help restore lost functions.

5) Spinal cord injury

Stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury aims to promote regeneration and repair of the damaged tissue. This can be achieved through the secretion of growth factors and cytokines that enhance neuronal survival, immunomodulation to reduce inflammation and scar formation, and differentiation of stem cells into neural cells to replace damaged or lost neurons and glial cells.

6) Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, leading to progressive cognitive decline. Stem cell therapy for Alzheimer's may involve the transplantation of neural stem cells or mesenchymal stem cells to promote neuroprotection, reduce inflammation, and enhance neurogenesis. Additionally, recent research has shown that stem cells may have the potential to target and clear amyloid-beta plaques, which could help slow down the progression of the disease.

7) Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Stem cell therapy can potentially aid in the recovery of TBI by reducing inflammation, promoting neuroprotection, and stimulating neural repair and regeneration. This may involve the secretion of growth factors and cytokines, modulation of the immune response, and differentiation of stem cells into neural cell types to replace damaged or lost partitions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy has emerged as a promising approach to treating various medical conditions, especially using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) derived from umbilical cord tissue. Here, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of stem cell therapy, with a positive bias towards MSCs.

Advantages:

  1. Regenerative potential: MSCs derived from umbilical cord tissue have excellent regenerative potential. They can differentiate into various cell types, such as bone, cartilage, and muscle cells, making them useful in treating various conditions, including osteoarthritis, spinal cord injuries, and heart diseases.

  2. Immunomodulatory properties: MSCs have been shown to modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. This property is beneficial in treating autoimmune disorders and inflammatory diseases like Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

  3. Non-invasive source: Umbilical cord tissue is an easily accessible and non-invasive source of MSCs, making the collection process less risky and painful for the donor. Additionally, MSCs from umbilical cord tissue have a higher proliferation rate than those from other sources, such as bone marrow.

  4. Low risk of rejection: MSCs derived from umbilical cord tissue are less likely to be rejected by the recipient's immune system, as they express low levels of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules. This property reduces the need for immunosuppressive drugs and eliminates the risk of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).

  5. Ethical considerations: Using MSCs from umbilical cord tissue sidesteps the ethical concerns associated with embryonic stem cells. Since umbilical cord tissue is obtained after the baby is born and would otherwise be discarded, using these cells does not involve the destruction of embryos, making it a more ethically acceptable alternative.

  6. Potential for personalized medicine: With the advancements in genetic engineering and gene editing, MSCs can be modified to suit individual patients' needs. This approach allows personalized stem cell therapies tailored to specific medical conditions and personal requirements.

Disadvantages:

  1. Limited availability: Although umbilical cord tissue is a relatively abundant source of MSCs, the availability is still limited by the number of donors and the need for proper collection, storage, and transportation of the tissue.

  2. Cost: Stem cell therapy can be expensive, mainly using MSCs from umbilical cord tissue. The cost of isolation, expansion, and administration of the cells and the need for specialized facilities and personnel can make the treatment less accessible to many patients.

  3. Potential for complications: While MSCs have a lower risk of rejection and fewer ethical concerns, there is still a possibility of complications, such as infection, bleeding, or allergic reactions. Additionally, the long-term effects of MSCs are still being studied, and unforeseen risks may exist.

  4. Regulatory hurdles: Many countries face significant regulatory hurdles in stem cell therapy, including using MSCs from umbilical cord tissue. These restrictions can slow the development and approval of new treatments, limiting patients' access to potentially life-changing medicines.

Success Rates of Stem Cell Therapy

The success rate of stem cell therapy for neurological disorders varies depending on the condition being treated and the type of stem cells used. Some studies have reported significant improvements in patient's symptoms and quality of life, while others have shown more modest results. As research advances, the success rate of stem cell therapy for neurological disorders is expected to continue to improve.  

Cost of Stem Cell Therapy for Neurological Disorders

The cost of stem cell therapy for neurological disorders can vary widely, depending on the type of stem cells used, the specific condition being treated, and the location of the treatment center. In general, stem cell therapy can be expensive, ranging from $10,000 to over $100,000.

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Nerve Healing and Regeneration

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have shown great promise in promoting nerve healing and regeneration due to their unique properties. Although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, several key processes have been identified that contribute to the healing and regeneration of nerves. Here are some ways through which MSCs are believed to induce nerve healing and regeneration:

  1. Secretion of growth factors and cytokines: MSCs secrete various growth factors and cytokines, such as nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). These molecules play crucial roles in promoting neuron survival, neurite outgrowth, and nerve regeneration by activating specific cellular pathways and supporting the growth and differentiation of neurons.

  2. Immunomodulation: MSCs possess immunomodulatory properties, which help modulate the local immune response, reduce inflammation, and create a favorable environment for nerve regeneration. MSCs can release anti-inflammatory cytokines, suppress pro-inflammatory immune cell activation, and stimulate regulatory T-cell production. These actions help protect the injured nerves from further damage and promote healing.

  3. Angiogenesis: MSCs promote angiogenesis, forming new blood vessels by secreting pro-angiogenic factors such as VEGF. Developing new blood vessels improves blood supply, oxygen, and nutrient delivery to the injured nerve tissue, thus promoting healing and nerve regeneration.

  4. Neuroprotection: MSCs can provide neuroprotection to injured neurons by reducing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and inhibiting the release of pro-apoptotic factors. Through these actions, MSCs can prevent neuronal cell death and preserve existing neurons' functions in the injured area.

  5. Direct cell-to-cell interactions: MSCs can establish direct contact with neurons and other cell types in the injured nerve tissue through cell-to-cell interactions. These interactions may help regulate neuronal survival, differentiation, and maturation. Moreover, they can influence the local microenvironment and promote nerve repair and regeneration.

  6. Differentiation into neural cells: MSCs can differentiate into neural cell types, such as neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. This ability allows MSCs to directly contribute to nerve repair and regeneration by replacing lost or damaged cells. However, the extent to which MSCs differentiate into neural cells in vivo remains a topic of ongoing research.

  7. Modulation of glial scar formation: Glial scar formation is a natural response to injury in the central nervous system (CNS) and can inhibit nerve regeneration. MSCs can modulate glial scar formation by reducing the proliferation of astrocytes and promoting the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which help break down scar tissue. This modulation may facilitate nerve regeneration by removing physical barriers to nerve growth.

In summary, mesenchymal stem cells promote nerve healing and regeneration through various mechanisms, including the secretion of growth factors and cytokines, immunomodulation, angiogenesis, neuroprotection, direct cell-to-cell interactions, differentiation into neural cells, and modulation of glial scar formation. These properties make MSCs a promising therapeutic option for treating nerve injuries and neurodegenerative diseases.

It is essential to note that the effectiveness of MSC-based therapies in nerve healing and regeneration may vary depending on the specific injury, disease, and patient factors. Further research and clinical trials are necessary to understand better the mechanisms underlying MSC-mediated nerve repair and regeneration, optimize the therapeutic protocols, and establish the safety and efficacy of MSC-based treatments in various neurological conditions.

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Signs of Nerve Healing

As nerve cells regenerate after stem cell therapy, patients may experience several signs of healing, including:

  1. A gradual reduction in pain

  2. Improved sensation and feeling in previously numb areas

  3. Enhanced muscle strength and coordination

  4. Improved balance and mobility

Vitamins and Supplements for Nerve Regeneration

In addition to stem cell therapy, specific vitamins, and supplements can support nerve regeneration and overall neurological health. These include:

  1. Vitamin B12

  2. Vitamin B6

  3. Vitamin D

  4. Alpha-lipoic acid

  5. Omega-3 fatty acids

Conclusion

Stem cell therapy for neurological disorders offers a promising treatment option for patients suffering from various conditions, including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and stroke. Although there are potential risks and disadvantages associated with this therapy, ongoing research, and advancements in the field continue to improve the safety and effectiveness of stem cell-based treatments. By carefully considering the benefits and risks, patients and their healthcare providers can make informed decisions about pursuing stem cell therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

References

  1. Venkataramana NK, Kumar SK, Balaraju S, et al. Open-labeled study of unilateral autologous bone-marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in Parkinson's disease. Transl Res. 2010;155(2):62-70. doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2009.07.006

  2. Sun Z, Gu P, Xu H, Zhao W, Zhou Y, Zhou L, Zhang Z, Wang W, Han R, Chai X, An S. Human Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cells Improve Locomotor Function in Parkinson's Disease Mouse Model Through Regulating Intestinal Microorganisms. Front Cell Dev Biol. 2022 Jan 20;9:808905. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.808905. PMID: 35127723; PMCID: PMC8810651.

  3. Blurton-Jones, M., Kitazawa, M., Martinez-Coria, H., Castello, N. A., Müller, F. J., Loring, J. F., ... & LaFerla, F. M. (2009). Neural stem cells improve cognition via BDNF in a transgenic model of Alzheimer's disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(32), 13594-13599.

  4. Boucherie, C., Schafer, S., Lavand'homme, P., Maloteaux, J. M., & Hermans, E. (2009). Chimerization of the astroglial population in the lumbar spinal cord after mesenchymal stem cell transplantation prolongs survival in a rat model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 87(9), 2034-2046.

  5. Chen, J., Li, Y., Wang, L., Zhang, Z., Lu, D., Lu, M., & Chopp, M. (2001). The therapeutic benefit of intravenous administration of bone marrow stromal cells after cerebral ischemia in rats. Stroke, 32(4), 1005-1011.

  6. Gage, F. H. (2000). Mammalian neural stem cells. Science, 287(5457), 1433-1438.

  7. Hofstetter, C. P., Schwarz, E. J., Hess, D., Widenfalk, J., El Manira, A., Prockop, D. J., & Olson, L. (2002). Marrow stromal cells form guiding strands in the injured spinal cord, promoting recovery. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(4), 2199-2204.

  8. Kim, J. H., Auerbach, J. M., Rodríguez-Gómez, J. A., Velasco, I., Gavin, D., Lumelsky, N., ... & McKay, R. (2002). Dopamine neurons derived from embryonic stem cells function in an animal model of Parkinson's disease. Nature, 418(6893), 50-56.