Stem cells are often be cast as a ‘silver bullet’ cure to any disease, and in this sense certain sources in the media can get carried away in their reporting of stem cell cures. But through the hype and the misinformation there is actual medical science and research that has produced thousands of human stories that attest to the current effectiveness of stem cell treatments and hint at the amazing future that lies over the horizon.

Here are a few cases that speak to the effectiveness of current treatments and the global reach of stem cell therapies and research.

Ollie Terblanche

In January 2015, twenty-five-year-old Heinrich ‘Ollie’ Terblanche was playing prop for the SWD Eagles rugby team when a scrum collapsed on him, fracturing his neck at the C5 and C6 vertebrae. Doctors told Ollie that he was unlikely to regain use of his limbs, and was likely to be paralysed for the rest of his life. In spite of this crushing prognosis, two years later, in January 2017, Ollie stood at the altar beside his soon-to-be wife during their wedding ceremony. This remarkable transformation was thanks in large part to stem cell therapy.

Since his injury, Ollie, who lives in George in the Western Cape (South Africa) has regained use of his abdominal muscles and much of his bladder control thanks to a transfusion of stem cells. The transfusion and subsequent rehabilitation work allowed Ollie to walk down the aisle, assisted by crutches, and his continued work means he is now he is able to walk for an hour and twenty minutes on a treadmill. Ollie’s remarkable progress since his transfusion, coupled with his constant determination, has given him and his family hope that one day in the future he could chuck away his wheelchair and crutches all together. Ollie is due to have two more stem cell transfusions in the near future at the StemCure Clinic in White River, Mpumalanga, and it is hoped that these will see him even further down the road to recovery.

You can follow Ollie and his journey at: https://www.instagram.com/ollie_terblanche3/?utm_source=ig_embed

Owen Franks

Following a torn shoulder muscle back in April 2019, the 105-times capped All Black prop Owen Franks thought that his chances of playing in this year’s Rugby World Cup were all but gone. As a prop, Franks’ shoulder receives extraordinary levels of punishment, both in training where he is expected to routinely lifts weights in excess of 250kg, and in matches, where he is at the forefront of scrum drives and line-out lifts; damage to this muscle was, then, potentially career ending.

Franks’ doctor, Dr Hassan Mubark, an expert in musculoskeletal and sport medicine, considered stem cell treatment following his previous treatment of a 72-year-old osteoarthritis patient with a stem cell therapy which saw the patient soon walking unaided and pain-free. With few other options, Franks agreed to the treatment that saw stem cells extracted from his fat cells and expanded by the Queenstown-based regenerative medicine company ReGen Cellular, before being injected into the injured shoulder. Soon afterwards, much to his delighted surprise, Franks was able to return to training and was back in the All Blacks test set up.

The treatment was developed in co-operation with scientists at Monash and Melbourne universities, and the Melbourne Stem Cell Centre conducted trials with expanded stem cells between 2014 and 2016. Several of the participants in these had documented cartilage regrowth in a knee joint, making it one of the first trials in the world to show cartilage regrowth in a human trial. Since then, the treatment has been employed in various clinics, and Dr Mubark reports that his application of the therapy enjoys around an 80% success rate, and he is aiming to achieve 100% in the future. For Owen Franks’, the successful treatment saw him easily return to the All Blacks line-up and pick up three more caps in advance of the world cup.

Michael Schumacher

In 2013, the seven-time world champion Formula One driver Michael Schumacher suffered a catastrophic accident while skiing in the French Alps that caused severe brain damage. Since the accident Schumacher has not been seen in public, and information on his condition have been highly guarded by his family. However, in September 2019 it has been widely reported by the European media that Schumacher’s slow progress towards rehabilitation has been accelerated by a new stem cell treatment. While details of the treatment are being kept strictly confidential by his doctors (following the family’s wishes), the effects it had on Schumacher’s condition are apparently transformative. After years of slow progress, it has been reported that he is now able to ‘cry at stories’ and ‘move his thumbs’. The therapy and Schumacher’s apparent rapid progress after it was widely publicised in the tabloid media following its initial reporting in the French newspaper Le Parisien, but since then cold water has been poured on the story by some, with commentators referring to the reported treatment as ‘unproven’ or ‘experimental’. But in response, Schumacher’s doctor, Phillipe Menasche, has defended the transfusion he administered, telling Italian newspaper Le Republica “My team and I are not doing an experiment, an abominable term that is not in line with a serious medical view.” Menasche, who holds professorships in both the USA and France and leads a team of stem cell researchers at Paris’ Georges-Pompidou Hospital, concluded “there has been a lot of progress on the subject [of stem cell transfusions] in the last 20 years which by the way there is still a lot to learn.” Michael Schumacher and his family are still working towards the goal of rehabilitation, but thanks to stem cell treatments and the work of people like Dr Menasche, he stands a greater chance than ever of some form of recovery.

  

References

(1) Fassas A, Kimiskidis VK, Sakellari I, Kapinas K, Anagnostopoulos A, Tsimourtou V, Sotirakoglou K, Kazis A. Long-term results of stem cell transplantation for MS: A sing-center experience. 2011; 76(12): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0b013e318211c537.

(2) Fagius J, Lundgren J, Öberg G. Early highly aggressive MS successfully treated by hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Multiple Sclerosis Journal. 2008; 15(2): 229-237.

(3) Neumann B, Baror R, Zhao C, Chalut K, van Wijngaarden P, Franklin RJM. Metformin Restores CNS Remyelination Capacity by Rejuvenating Aged Stem Cells. Cell Stem Cell. 2019; 25(4): 473-485.

(4) MS Society. First Results of a new stem cell therapy trial announced. Available from: mssociety.org.uk/research/latest-research/latest-research-news-and-blogs/first-results-of-new-stem-cell-therapy-trial-announced (Accessed November 2019).

(5) Mesenchymal Stem Cells for Multiple Sclerosis. MESEMS: Project stem cells in humans. Available from: http://www.mesems.org/index.php (Accessed November 2019).

(6) MS Trust. How common is MS across Europe?. Available from: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/research/research-updates/update130930-how-common-is-ms-across-europe (Accessed November 2019).

(7) US National Library of Medicine, Clinical Trials. Assessment of Bone Marrow-derived Cellular Therapy in Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (ACTiMuS) (ACTiMuS). Available from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01815632 (Accessed November 2019).

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