Quite a few studies have been done over the last decade looking at the efficacy of stem cell therapy to treat things like osteoarthritis and orthopedic injuries. Mesenchymal stem cells that can be coaxed to regenerate tissue have shown to be effective for a variety of musculoskeletal issues. Surprisingly though, there has been very little research into the use of stem cell therapy as a treatment for obesity.
Why is this surprising? Because doctors trained by organizations like the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute to provide stem cell injections for orthopedic purposes often take the stem cell material for such procedures directly from adipose (fat) tissue. If those cells can be harvested and introduced into the human body in order to repair damaged tendons or ligaments for example, can they also be used to reduce the body’s tendency to store food energy as fat?
That is a question that has apparently intrigued a team of researchers from Lebanon and Italy. They decided to investigate as many animal-based stem cell studies as they could find to determine whether it was worth looking into stem cell therapy for obesity in humans.
Some Positive Numbers
The research team started with 578 published studies. They narrowed down that rather large list to only seven that met their research criteria. So right off the bat, we are talking small-scale results here. But even with the limited amount of data they had to work with, the researchers believe there is justification for studying the question further.
Principle researcher Dr. Marwan El Ghoch said that the systematic review conducted by his team clearly shows the beneficial effects of stem cell treatment for obesity-related diseases in lab animals. In other words, the seven studies showed that lab mice were successfully treated for obesity using stem cells. Dr. El Ghoch believes that is compelling evidence.
El Ghoch also says that “these findings should be interpreted with caution before jumping to conclusions.” He acknowledges that only about 30% of all animal-based studies ever lead to human clinical trials and, of those, only 10% eventually translate into approved treatments.
The evidence is compelling, but only inasmuch as it suggests that further research is appropriate. Success in lab animals is not necessarily indicative of success in humans. Therefore, it would seem that any researchers interested in learning more about stem cell treatment for obesity would concentrate first on producing enough animal-based studies to create a significantly larger database.
Understanding the Mechanism
One of the keys that will ultimately determine whether obesity research carries into the human realm is understanding the mechanism in lab mice. In other words, what is it that causes obese mice to respond to stem cell treatment? Understanding that mechanism would allow researchers to better predict whether the treatment would be effective in human beings or not.
If a similar mechanism could be found in humans, it would indicate good cause to begin a clinical study. The lack of such a mechanism would suggest that using stem cells to treat obesity would probably not be successful in humans – despite the positive response of lab mice.
The good news in all of this is that science is now showing an appetite for finding the answers. It looks like growing numbers of researchers actually want to know if stem cell therapy could make for an effective obesity treatment. Hopefully that desire leads to more studies that bring us gradually closer to the answer. A stem cell-based treatment for obesity could be a real game-changer around the world.