Stem Cell-Based Therapy for Blinding Retinal Conditions

The rapidly emerging field of stem cell therapy has furthered the burgeoning area of regenerative medicine, with stem cell-based methods demonstrating proven success in reducing amounts of scarred heart tissue post-heart attack, and producing insulin-secreting cells in patients with type 1 diabetes. The development and testing of new drugs using induced pluripotent stem cells is on the rise, with pluripotent stem cells creating cancer cells to test newly formulated anti-cancer drugs. Yet despite a multitude of studies and trials, stem cell therapy remains mostly theoretical, with few treatments reaching even the earliest phases of clinical trials. Future researchers hope to revolutionize medical practices with new developments in stem cell technology.

UCLA scientists of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research were recently awarded a $5.1 million grant to develop a stem cell-based therapy for blinding eye conditions. This grant will help drive regenerative retinal therapy to clinical trials in humans through stem cell-based research aimed at treating macular degeneration and other causes of blindness. Blinding eye conditions including macular degeneration affect more than 10% of the U.S. population over the age of 65: a number expected to increase to nearly 20 million by 2020.

Stem-cell based regenerative treatments involve using patient’s skin cells to generate autologous induced pluripotent stem cells to replenish retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. Deterioration of RPE cells beneath the retina contributes to the loss of photoreceptors, ultimately leading to blindness. Research indicates that surgically transplanted induced pluripotent stem cells merge with existing RPE cells in the patient’s retina, rescuing and spurring regeneration of the eye tissue while maintaining the patient’s genetic code.

While the initial clinical trial developed by Dr. Steven Schwartz and his UCLA research team revealed that RPE replacement therapy may preserve or restore vision, substantial health risks were involved. Previously used human embryonic stem cells required patients to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their bodies from rejecting transplanted RPE cells. Long-term immunosuppressive therapy can be dangerous for elderly patients, which comprised the treatment’s target demographic.

Schwartz’s new trial method will make treatment more accessible to patients through its use of patient-derived stem cells, eliminating the risk of cell rejection and need for immunosuppressive therapy. The new treatment will additionally be delivered to patients through a minimally invasive surgery via a liquid suspension: reducing overall risks and recovery time.

Schwartz’s research team is not the only group of scientists working on this issue; phase 2 of the UCLA clinical trial is expected to launch this year. The National Institutes of Health published a study in January reporting advancements in the field, bringing stem cell-based retinal regeneration therapy closer to achievement. These newly devised methods will open up the possibility of initiating treatment at earlier stages of macular diseases, before too many RPE cells and essential tissues are lost. Early intervention may prove critical to the success of treatment, while making it increasingly accessible to patients who need it most.

Using Bacteria to Create Anti-Aging Pills

Anti-aging research is primed to impact the global structure of healthcare, with the Harvard Gazette reporting a series of opportunities focused on extending the human lifespan. The Boston-based Academy for Health and Lifespan Research launched in February, with a dual focus on promoting future work in anti-aging medicine and ensuring the factuality of information being disseminated. Reflecting on the immeasurable progress made in the field of aging, founding member and Harvard Medical School Genetics Professor David Sinclair believes that “we can develop medicines that will treat aging at its source and thereby have a much greater impact on health and lifespan than drugs that target a single disease.”

Increasingly, the use of bacteria derivatives as a form of anti-aging medicine has become a key element of longevity research. One such compound being tested for its ability to combat aging-related diseases is rapamycin, a bacteria native to Easter Island with proven effects on the immune system. Global healthcare company Novartis conducted a study of the rapamycin-derived drug everolimus in order to determine its efficacy in the responsiveness of flu vaccines in people over the age of 65. The results of this “first human aging trial” yielded an increase of flu vaccine responses of about 20 percent.

Rapamycin was initially fed to laboratory species as a potential method of lengthening their lifespan. Findings revealed that mice fed with the compound were expected to live, on average, 25 percent longer than their counterparts. Researchers have begun studies to test the effects of rapamycin on household pets, including a recent Seattle-based trial on 24 middle-aged dogs. While a longer, more extensive study involving a larger group of dogs is underway, the initial findings indicated an improvement in “diastolic and systolic age-related measures of heart function,” in addition to a decrease in mean corpuscular volume in rapamycin-treated canines.

Following the preliminary findings of positive responses to rapamycin in both human and animal anti-aging trails, Boston company PureTech Health announced its plan to license two Novartis-developed drugs to be used against aging-related diseases: serving as the foundational mission of its new startup resTORbio.

Currently, formal studies of rapamycin’s ability to postpone death in humans have not yet been conducted, as the very idea of “life-extension” is still viewed as an unconventional and unorthodox pursuit. Forthcoming anti-aging research efforts will aim to determine whether any drug can effectively slow or reverse the aging process. Rather than approaching mortality as a disease, healthcare companies have begun to target specific aging properties in an attempt to slow them down. In the modern age of increasing lifespan research methods, we can expect to see more results from companies such as Novartis surrounding the effects of targeted compounds that specifically delay the aging process.

Member of the Month: Christopher Campbell, DO

A4M valued member Christopher Campbell, DO, FMNM, ABAARM shares insight from his professional experience in this Member of the Month feature. 

Q1: Before joining A4M, what was your medical background?

After completing a Family Practice residency, I joined the Air Force. Having gone through medical school and residency on my own, I had some leverage to go into a Flight Surgery program, which is what I did. The Air Force trained me in Aerospace Medicine and Allergy Medicine. Shortly after that training, I became “Chief of Flight Surgery” at Edwards AFB in Southern California. As exciting and fun as my time in the Air Force was, when my three years were up, I had to get out into the “real world” and start paying back my student loans.

I moved to Northern California and focused on raising my two boys and my Family Practice. One day, about twelve years ago, I had a female patient come in asking about “bioidentical hormones.” She was going through menopause, and was reading one of Suzanne Sommers’ books. She was full of questions. Questions I had no idea how to answer. However, this patient was very intelligent and piqued my interest. And it wasn’t long before I found myself sitting in an A4M BHRT symposium. I remember sitting in a lecture on the first day of the conference, thinking to myself: “Where has all this information been hiding, and why weren’t we taught this in medical school and residency?” What an eye opener! After that conference, I couldn’t sign up as an A4M member fast enough.

Q2: What anti-aging techniques have you incorporated into your practice? How did you so?

Initially, I continued my Family Practice, and incorporated everything I was learning during my ABAARM fellowship. I replaced “Big Pharma” hormones with BHRT hormones. I started checking the testosterone levels on symptomatic male patients, and replacing their “T” if indicated. I also did targeted supplementation of nutraceuticals and made lifestyle-changing recommendations.

During the time in which I was completing my ABAARM fellowship training, I started incorporating more and more changes to the way I was treating my patients: changes that were making real improvements in their lives.

I refer to this time in my life as the “transformation stage.” I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with practicing the “status quo” of conventional “band aid” medicine. I realized the best thing for both me and my patients would be to get away from the restraints of a conventional “insurance-based” practice.

Six years ago I left my conventional, band-aid, insurance-based, big Pharma practice and opened a concierge Integrative Medicine practice. It is the A4M training that has given me the tools to become so successful and truly optimize both the quality and quantity of my patients’ lives.

Q3: What are the benefits of practicing anti-aging medicine: as a professional, and for your practice?

Wow! Where do I start? Every aspect of both my life and my patients’ lives has benefited from my ABAARM and FMNM training.

As physicians, we are residency-trained to treat a given disease or condition. A4M / MMI Fellowships provide us with a means to further our education and hone our skills as physicians. We learn how to become more complete in how we think and deliver health care to our patients. I have so many more, better tools in my ‘doctor’s’ bag. Now, when a patient presents, I automatically start looking for the underlying cause of his/her complaint, and not just writing an Rx and sending him/her on the way.

Q4: What are the changes you see in your patients?

My patients see improvements both physically and mentally. Better overall health with more energy, strength, sleep and drive. They seem to enjoy life more.

Q5: Why would you recommend Anti-Aging Medicine to your peers?

Why wouldn’t I? Before I found A4M and became a fellow, I had lost the passion I had in medical school and residency. I felt like my life was a scene out of the Groundhog Day movie. Simply starting my first A4M fellowship put the wind back in my sails. I could actually help my patients with new modalities that not only treat the underlying cause of disease, but also prevent disease. Anytime we can cure an existing “chronic disease” in a patient or prevent future disease, we’ve accomplished the very thing most of us went into medicine for.

Q6: Where do you see the future of Anti-Aging Medicine 20 years from now?

Anti-Aging, Functional, and Integrative medicine will only grow in popularity. The more physicians that receive training, the more patients will be exposed to the life-changing differences compared to conventional medicine. It may take another 10 to 15 years, but it is my belief that the present system will be replaced by what we are doing at A4M / MMI. Once the medical schools start teaching an integrative approach instead of a predominantly pharmacological approach, we will have won as both physicians and patients.