Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of stem cell therapy for the treatment of lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The American Lung Association says that this lack of approval is due to the fact that these treatments have high costs, unproven benefits, and the potential to cause harm.
COPD is a progressive, incurable disease that affects at least
Keep reading to learn more about the potential for using stem cells to treat COPD, including cost, clinical trials, and more.
Stem cells are cells from either embryos or adults that can divide and renew. Although they are not specialized, they can become specialized and ultimately function as cells in various body parts.
Due to their regenerative power and ability to function as different types of cells, stem cells can help repair or replace damaged tissue. Scientists are interested in using stem cell therapy in the treatment of several chronic diseases.
However, most researchers and organizations state that there is not yet enough evidence of the effectiveness of stem cell therapy and knowledge about the long-term risks.
- the best candidates for the therapy
- the type of therapy, i.e., which cells it uses and the aim of treatment
- the timing of therapy in relation to the disease
- dosing issues
In other words, more large scale studies must take place to prove or disprove stem cell therapy’s safety and effectiveness for the majority of people.
The American Lung Association joined many other organizations in signing a statement recommending against stem cell therapy for COPD. The concerns of these groups include:
- potential for harm
- lack of evidence that the therapy is beneficial to humans
However, stem cell therapy has shown some potential as a treatment option. According to the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the therapy has shown promise in animal studies. The ATS also notes that sufficient human studies are still lacking, so a person should avoid the therapy unless they are participating in a clinical trial.
The National Emphysema Foundation points out that people who have used unproven stem cell therapies are often willing to get further infusions, suggesting a positive experience.
Finally, the Regeneration Center of Thailand offers and supports the use of stem cell therapy to treat COPD and other lung diseases. However, to receive treatment, a person would need to travel to Thailand, adding to the costs of an already potentially expensive procedure.
As the FDA has not approved stem cell therapy for the treatment of COPD, a person will need to cover all of the costs on their own. They will also need to accept all of the risks associated with using an experimental treatment.
Medicare and private insurance companies will not help cover the costs. A person may not be able to use any healthcare savings account money for the procedure either.
Prices are likely to vary among clinics, very few of which, if any, list the treatment costs upfront. A company called DVC Stem offers stem cell therapy in the Cayman Islands and states that the average cost of treatment is between $10,000 and $35,000. It advises people interested in receiving stem cell therapy to join a clinical trial.
Clinical trials are controlled experiments in which researchers test a new treatment in a group of volunteers. The tests help researchers determine how well the treatment works, the possible side effects, and the ideal dosage, among other factors.
Clinical trials take place in phases, with each phase representing a level of confidence in the treatment. Clinical trials typically go through
- Phase 1: Researchers use this phase to judge the side effects of the treatment and often recruit a small group of healthy people.
- Phase 2: This phase usually involves a larger group of participants and focuses on the efficacy of the treatment.
- Phase 3: Large groups of diverse people — from several hundred to several thousand — are required for this phase, which considers both efficacy and safety.
- Phase 4: This phase occurs after FDA approval and assesses how the treatment affects a larger group of people in real-world settings.
A person interested in joining a stem cell therapy clinical trial should talk with their doctor first. The doctor can help determine whether they will be a good fit for a particular study and may be able to recommend a study based on their condition and health.
ClinicalTrials.gov offers people a way to search for clinical trials related to COPD and stem cell therapy. The listed trials are all approved and regulated for safety. The website lists information about the phase of the trial, who is eligible to participate, and other relevant information.
There is limited knowledge about the short- and long-term side effects of stem cell therapy. In other words, more studies are necessary for researchers to understand precisely how stem cell therapy may affect a person living with COPD.
Alternative or complementary therapies are treatments that fall outside the scope of conventional practice in U.S. medicine. People typically receive these therapies alongside conventional treatment to help support mental health, reduce side effects, and improve quality of life.
The American Thoracic Society states that people can try several alternative or complementary therapies for COPD. These include:
Stem cell therapy for COPD is currently not well-understood. Many researchers and organizations, including the American Lung Association, are concerned about the effectiveness and safety of the therapy.
A person can seek stem cell therapy from unapproved clinics, but the treatment often has high costs with no insurance coverage.
As a result, a better approach is to talk with a doctor about joining a registered clinical trial.