Experts are looking at the potential of stem cell therapy in developing new therapies aimed at conditions that do not respond well to treatment, such as non-small cell lung cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is one of the two main types of lung cancer. Evidence suggests that roughly 80–85% of lung cancer is NSCLC. It occurs when cells that line the lungs grow abnormally.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and is the leading cause of cancer-related death, representing about 25% of cancer deaths. Most lung cancer-related deaths are due to treatment failure and the spreading of cancer cells to distant sites (metastasis).

Current research proposes that NSCLC’s resistance to treatment and fast progression is due to the presence of specific types of cancer cells, called cancer stem cells (CSCs), which have the ability of normal stem cells, allowing them to divide and proliferate.

Stem cell therapy is a field of regenerative medicine that utilizes people’s own cells to promote healing, repair damaged tissue, and help boost the immune response to fight off cancer cells and infections.

In this article, we look at whether stem cell therapy is a viable treatment for NSCLC along with other new treatment breakthroughs.

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Currently, there are limited studies that prove the effectiveness of using stem cell therapy in treating NSCLC, and the majority of these are still under clinical trials. Growing evidence suggests that stem cell therapy may also have some potential to treat other lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While a few clinical studies suggest some promise of stem cell therapy in treating NSCLC, more research is necessary due to potential concerns regarding the effectiveness and safety of the therapy. At present, many experts do not recommend this therapy due to the potential risks, lack of proven benefits, and costs.

However, researchers continue to investigate the potential benefits. For example, a 2021 study indicates that mesenchymal stem cells may be able to inhibit NSCLC cells in a lab setting. An animal study also found that giving human-induced neural stem cells intravenously to mice was safe and reduced NSCLC tumor cells by seeking and killing them.

Current studies associate NSCLC’s initiation, progression, and resistance to treatment with CSCs. CSCs have stem cell-like properties that allow them to self-renew.

Studies found that mutations in genes that regulate lung cell growth and the inhibition of genes that suppress growth lead to increased CSC activity.

Specialists use this information to find treatments that address the activity of CSCs by targeting CSC-related markers in cells and compounds that can stop CSC-like properties.

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of licensing stem cell therapies proven to be safe and effective, stem cell therapy will only become more widespread once the FDA approves them.

The FDA also warns people against unapproved stem cell therapies and further notes that individuals should only consider stem cell treatments that are FDA-approved and currently being studied under an Investigational New Drug Application.

The American Lung Association also released an advisory that cautions about the administration of stem cells to individuals with lung diseases. It states there are still no studies that prove their benefit.

Similarly, since stem cell therapy holds so many possibilities, the International Society for Stem Cell Research released a 2021 update to its ethical guidelines and boundaries for stem cell research.

Several new treatment breakthroughs are emerging as experts discover more about gene mutations (oncogenes) that cause a series of events within the cell that causes cancer cell growth and maturation.

A review found that using drugs that inhibit these oncogenes with chemotherapy and other treatments can delay drug resistance in NSCLC. Researchers are also testing new approaches to target KRAS, a known oncogene in solid tumors such as NSCLC.

Another review found that using single or a combination of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) therapies combined with chemotherapy is more effective than when using chemotherapy alone or in combination.

A similar review found targeted therapy for NSCLC to have more significant advantages than chemotherapy, including improved survival rates. Experts are working on developing more effective smart drug delivery systems to help inhibit cancer cell growth and reduce side effects.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology and Ontario Health recommends patients with stage 4 NSCLC get tested for potentially targetable mutations. They also recommend targeted therapies as the first or second line of treatment.

The FDA recently granted Priority Review to Tecentriq, a supplemental biologic that increases the effectiveness of surgery and platinum-based chemotherapy. They have also recently approved the first oral drug for advanced cases of NSCLC that meet certain criteria.

NSCLC is the most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide due to poor treatment response and metastasis.

Because of the potential of stem cell therapy in treating a wide variety of diseases and conditions, research is ongoing to see if it is a viable treatment option for NSCLC. At present, however, there are limited studies that prove its therapeutic effect for the condition.