Breakthrough stem cell treatment for pulmonary hypertension tested

German doctors could have achieved a breakthrough by treating a young girl suffering from a serious lung disease that can lead to heart failure, by applying stem cell products to the umbilical cord.

Researchers at the Medical School of Hannover (MHH) announced that it was the “first successful treatment to stop the generally fatal course of the disease worldwide”.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is high blood pressure in the blood vessels supplying the lungs.

There is currently no cure for the disease which can affect people of all ages.

Micrograph of cultured human mesenchymal stem cells from donor umbilical cord. Initially, these stem cell products were used to treat a young girl with severe lung disease.
Zenger News/Ralf Hass, MHH Women’s Clinic

Risk factors include family history, previous blood clots in the lungs, mitral valve problems, and sleep apnea.

The MHH experts treated their three-year-old patient for six months a total of five times with mesenchymal stem cell products obtained from a human umbilical cord.

Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent stem cells found in bone marrow that are important for making and repairing skeletal tissues such as cartilage.

Prof. Georg Hansmann is Director of the Translational Cardiopulmonary Biomedicine Research Group at MHH and the clinic’s senior attending physician within the Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Critical Care Medicine.

Hansmann said: “Treatment resulted in significant improvement in growth, exercise tolerance and clinical cardiovascular variables. It also reduced the number of plasma markers in the blood that could be detected in vascular constriction and l ‘inflammation.”

The expert pointed out: “After six months, not only was there a marked improvement in health, but there were also no adverse side effects.”

Hansmann said it was the first successful therapy for people with severe forms of PAH.

The doctor added, “Further studies are needed to confirm and explore the benefits of this novel stem cell therapy.”

Stem cells on a computer screen
Stem cells are viewed on a computer screen at the University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute at the UConn Health Center August 27, 2010 in Farmington, Connecticut.
Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Repetitive mesenchymal stem cell therapy is based on cells from the umbilical cord of newborn babies.

Examinations carried out by MHH experts have shown that the products of these umbilical cord stem cells are not only able to improve the regeneration of damaged blood vessels.

They have also been shown to inhibit blood vessel inflammation and limit damage to certain parts of cells.

Hansmann said: “We have evidence that this therapy has had multiple beneficial effects.

In the hearts of treated patients, it mainly protected the energy mitochondria. In the lungs, the treatment mainly inhibited inflammation and stimulated regeneration.”

Hansmann pointed out that “a very large team of scientists, researchers and doctors helped to implement this ‘individual healing experience'”.

The MHH has cooperated with Charité Berlin and Leiden University in the Netherlands on this treatment.

Hansmann imagined the new therapeutic approach through preliminary experiments with animal mesenchymal stem cells, which he had conducted in 2011 and 2012 at Harvard Medical School in Boston in the United States, research at MHH, and, eventually, at the request of the girl’s parents.

The MHH team of experts assumes that such therapy must be repeated at regular intervals to be successful in the long term.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) lists shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, among other possible symptoms of PAH.

On its website, the NHS warns: “Symptoms often get worse during exercise, which can limit your ability to take part in physical activities.

“If you have a type of pulmonary hypertension known as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), you may not have any symptoms until the disease is quite advanced.”

Siemens lung screen
Siemens displays a lung with lighting art installation during the 3rd World Health Expo held on April 8, 2021 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
Getty Images

The NHS adds: “Pulmonary hypertension cannot be cured, but treatment can reduce symptoms and help you manage your condition. Pulmonary hypertension usually gets worse over time. If left untreated, it can cause heart failure, which can be fatal, so it’s important treatment is started as soon as possible.”

The Medical University of Hanover, or Hanover Medical School (MHH), was established in 1965.

With over 3,500 students and 8,100 full-time employees, it is the leading scientific research institution in the Land of Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany.

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