How regenerative medicine could be used to contain COVID-19, others
*Practice provides answer to challenges conventional medicine deemed unfixable, say experts
More studies are validating the use of regenerative medicine to restore damaged organs, restore acute stroke patients, heal chronic pain and erectile dysfunction in male and female as well as prevent and treat viral infections such as COVID-19.
Indeed, several studies have shown that regenerative medicine is uniquely positioned to provide advanced organoid models to understand the infection mechanism of, identify patients at risk for, and develop ways to prevent COVID-19, as well as to introduce innovative treatments that have immune-modulatory and regenerative properties.
Organoids are tiny, self-organised three-dimensional tissue cultures that are derived from stem cells. Such cultures can be crafted to replicate much of the complexity of an organ, or to express selected aspects of it like producing only certain types of cells.
According to a recent study published in the journal Stem Cell Reviews and Reports and titled “Regenerative Medicine in COVID-19 Treatment: Real Opportunities and Range of Promises”, studies are increasing to find the best therapeutic approach for COVID-19 and its management.
The researchers said regenerative medicine offers various cell-tissue therapeutics and related products, such as stem cell therapy, natural killer (NK) cell therapy, Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, exosomes, and tissue products. “Interestingly, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can reduce inflammatory symptoms and protect against cytokine storm, which critically contributes to the COVID-19 progression,” they said.
The researchers concluded: “COVID-19 can involve multiple systems, including the central nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, and the respiratory system, and this will depend on its profound effects on the immune system. Regenerative medicine offers various cell-tissue therapeutics and related products that might help the reversal of COVID-19-related immune dysregulation. In particular, the promising features of MSCs, including their regenerative properties and ability to differentiate into diverse cell lineages, have generated considerable interest among researchers whose work has offered intriguing perspectives on cell-based therapies for various diseases.
“The immune-modulatory effects of MSCs, which may assist in inhibiting cytokine storm and lung inflammation, are of particular interest for COVID-19 therapy. …Finally, Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can help the development of a personalised approach to COVID-19 therapy.”
iPSCs are useful for researchers as they can provide an inexhaustible supply of cells that are identical to the patient’s.
A United States (U.S.) Board Certified Internist with a strong passion for regenerative aesthetic and cosmetic medicine, and Medical Director of Glory Wellness & Regenerative Centre, Ikeja, Lagos, Dr. David Ikudayisi, told The Guardian: “One of the regenerative medicine protocols, which we also have available at our Centre, was approved for COVID-19 purposes; leveraging its immune modulatory effect to calm the potentially fatal ‘cytokine storm’ of the disease. It also has the benefit of preventing or limiting lung scarring. Another protocol is in the early phase of clinical trial. While we are not a COVID-19 treating centre, it is important to note that regenerative medicine can play a role in the reduction of many of the adverse effects caused by COVID-19.”
Ikudayisi said the future of regenerative medicine is very bright. “We believe that the future of regenerative medicine is inevitable, and that ‘conventional medicine’ will only have to catch up as it usually does to new discoveries in medicine. The more people get to hear about the merits and see the evidence; it will not be long before it becomes the norm. It starts with everyday people and medical professionals doing their due diligence and doing their research as I did. My team and I are always available to answer questions about it, and we welcome it on all our social platforms as well. We really hope it catches up soon enough to maximise these great benefits for many more patients in dire need of these amazing solutions.”
Regenerative medicine has continued to generate excitement. What makes it significantly different from conventional medicine, and why would you recommend it for anyone in need of treatment? Ikudayisi said: “It is great to see that Nigeria is catching up with the possibilities of regenerative medicine for our health. Conventional medicine uses anything from conservative management, the use of medication, or surgery at the other extreme to help maintain good health or get us as close to it as possible.”
He said regenerative medicine on the other hand leverages the body’s natural healing mechanisms and attempts to accentuate their effects by increasing their availability to the specific organs needing regeneration. “The ability to harness the body’s natural healing mechanisms using adult stem cell therapy (a subcategory of regenerative medicine) while minimising adverse effects confers on regenerative medicine a considerably greater safety profile than conventional medicine,” Ikudayisi said.
He said regenerative medicine is not the secret sauce to fix all health problems, but is, however, a great tool provided by modern medicine to provide an answer to many health challenges that conventional medicine had deemed unfixable. Ikudayisi said conditions that have been considered incurable by conventional medicine due to their degenerative effects, are now made ‘curable’ in the practical sense as regenerative medicine takes care of the organ degeneration.
The physician said the scientific/physiological base of the therapeutic effects of regenerative medicine, specifically adult stem cell therapy, creates endless opportunities for its application. “Think about it this way, if the medical condition is of a degenerative nature, then regenerative medicine can be a viable option,” he said.
Ikudayisi said he would continue to recommend regenerative medicine to anyone in need of treatment because where conventional medicine fails; it offers hope and delivers results beyond what conventional medicine can offer in most cases. “The benefits are even more noticeable in acute phases of degeneration,” he said.
Can regenerative medicine treat only select ailments or all manner of sicknesses? Ikudayisi said: “The scope of application is broad and multi-systemic. This means it can be used for various systems and functions in the body. While the exceptions are diseases of a non-degenerative nature such as genetic or chromosome-related diseases; nonetheless, people with these challenges can see a reduction or improvement in symptoms even though it is not cured. Healthy people use it for anti-agEing, to feel stronger and healthier as well as look younger as they age.
“As I mentioned earlier, regenerative medicine is not here to replace other branches of medicine. Like other new innovations in medicine, it can add value to other forms of medicine. For example, a patient with a displaced fracture needs the intervention of an orthopedic surgeon not regenerative medicine. However, it can be added during or after the orthopedic surgery to accelerate the healing process.
“Here at Glory Wellness & Regenerative Centre in Lagos, Nigeria, we have seen so many success stories with this branch of medicine. We have treated patients with complex quadriplegia (two years old injury before our involvement due to partial transection of cervical spinal cord) and another with over nine years with cerebral palsy, both of whom have now gained the ability to move some of their extremities independently. We have also seen patients with uncontrolled diabetes with hypertension who now have blood pressures and hemoglobin A1c levels within the normal range as a result of these treatments.
“We have also seen great results in patients treated for female/male sexual dysfunction, pain in their joints, neck, and back, and acute stroke (especially when the acute stroke is treated very early to prevent permanent residual symptoms). All patients with autoimmune disorders can also benefit from regenerative medicine; however, they will need continued treatments to maintain the symptoms relief.
“Autistic patients in Nigeria are also benefiting from it, especially if the cause is autoimmune related (since up to 25 per cent of the autistic spectrum disorder could be caused by autoimmune diseases). Patients with chronic kidney disease in the early stages are not left out, but they will need more than one treatment session. This is just to mention a few medical conditions. One of the many joys we get is talking to people about their ailments and seeing how regenerative medicine can play a role in rejuvenating their health.”
What feedback are you getting from those who have accessed this branch of medicine?
Ikudayisi said many of the patients treated at Centre are delighted at their results, so much so that they are spreading the word person to person. “We get a great number of them who are so pleasantly surprised of the outcome, as they also see improvements in areas they did not even think to mention to us. It is noteworthy that the therapeutic benefits they have received from regenerative medicine had been practically impossible with conventional medicine hence their satisfaction, joy, and excitement,” he said.
The physician said an example is the case of a man with left testicular atrophy and low testosterone. “After one session of autologous treatment, the left testicle grew back to normal size and the production of testosterone significantly increased. People who have infertility issues, both male and female, should not give up without considering one of the regenerative medicine protocols, especially those women that have tried In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) without success,” he said.
How affordable is this new branch of medicine? “It is truly relatively expensive due to the demand on medical manpower and the present cost of required materials. However, the costs are gradually coming down which we hope is sustained and accelerated so that more people can benefit. Our goal is to get these treatments to as many people as possible. This involves finding ways to reduce cost without compromising on value. Whenever possible, we notify our patients of these price cuts. Furthermore, there are alternative options of treatment with varying costs: this makes these treatments ultimately accessible to more people. The latest biggest price reduction is for people with pain in their peripheral joints, female and male sexual dysfunction, female urinary incontinence, chronic non-healing wounds, facial acne, and uneven skin tone.
“I would like to mention that middle class to low income patients in Nigeria have also benefited from some of our regenerative medicine protocols.
“Regardless of the cost of the procedure, you cannot put a price tag on a human life. Human life is priceless. As the famous adage goes, ‘Your health, your wealth.’”
What is the success rate of regenerative medicine for those who have accessed treatment? Ikudayisi said the United States of America (USA) Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare claims that 75 to 80 per cent of patients ‘have had significant pain relief and improved function.’ The USA Mayo Clinic website says that 40 to 70 per cent of patients ‘find some level of pain relief’ using some of the regenerative medicine protocols.
The physician said the success rate has been generally high both in the USA and Nigeria at all the centres where he worked. He insisted the results differ from one patient to another, and some other centers do have low success rates. “I too have had a couple of patients with delayed onset of effectiveness of treatment or patients needing additional or second treatment sessions before they begin to see positive results. It is important to mention or remind ourselves that there is no guarantee in medicine despite the hype surrounding adult stem cell therapy or regenerative medicine as a whole. It does not work 100 percent of the time. Nonetheless, there is a very high success rate amongst the patients with non-bleeding acute stroke when treatment is done within a couple of days to few weeks, with the goal of preventing permanent residual symptoms post stroke. This was evident in all our non-haemorrhagic acute stroke patients that we treated directly at our facility or through consultation in other hospitals, ranging from a top government official to a low-income grandmother. The general rule of thumb is that the earlier the treatment is given in acute injuries, the higher the success rate,” Ikudayisi said.