Regeneration For Health

However, internationally, stem cell technology is breaking ground in this relatively new field of regenerative medicine - and it's not just for aesthetic or anti-aging motivations either.

One such medical technology company is Cytori Therapeutics. CEO, Christopher Calhoun, who was in South Africa the end of last year to launch the South African arm of the company, explains that it is his company's aim to "revolutionize healthcare by leading the way into an era of regenerative medicine, in which damage from cancer, heart disease and a host of other ailments can be healed through your body's own cells." Calhoun explains that his company has developed products that allow the doctor to take a small amount of fat, the same volumes as about half a can of Coke, and separate out the healing cells in about one hour. The cells are created by the patient themselves, as fat tissue you carry around is the richest source of stem and regenerative cells in the body.

Description: regenerative medicine

The controversy surrounding stem cell research has been, traditionally, that people typically relate this to mean embryonic stem cells. Yet, adds Calhoun, the clinical work done worldwide is based on adult stem cells that we all have in our bodies. "We have them because they are involved in the continual cycle of tissue replacement and repair. It is these repair cells that are the most practical and accessible."

And while stem cell grafting has been used in aesthetic and anti-aging procedures, what Calhoun is most proud of, is his company's work in the fields of breast and heart regeneration.

In 2011, approximately 230 000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States; while in Europe on average 450 000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer on a yearly basis. Here in South Africa, the lifetime risk is one in 29. Often breast conserving treatment (BCT) is the treatment of choice for around 70% to 80% of cases, as it is considered the least disfiguring option. Unfortunately, many patients seem to experience breast asymmetry after BCT. However, the cell-enriched fat grafting helps "rebuild" the breast using your own fat tissue in combination with the regenerative cells that naturally occur in your body fat. Liposuction removes excess body fat from either the stomach or thigh. The fat is divided into two portions: one portion is used to extract the regenerative cells within the tissue using the Cytori Celution 800/CRS medical technology. The other portion is washed to remove impurities. The cells are then combined with clean fat and re-grafted in micro droplets into the patient's breast to help restore its natural look and feel.

Description: adult stem cell treatments used in regenerative medicine

Studies from the European breast reconstruction trials, reported 85% physician satisfaction and 74% patient satisfaction after a 12-month period, and the technology has received the European approval (CE mark).

Professor Frank Graewe, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital, showcased the US-developed ground-breaking surgery in Cape Town last year and said that it was a significant improvement on similar methods currently being used. While still relatively new in South Africa, it has been used successfully in more than 4 000 patients in Europe and Asia. However, as it is priced at around R85 000 for the breast reconstruction, it would only be used in specific cases in the public sector, but would be available to private sector patients. Graewe shares that stem cells have also been widely used in South Africa to treat leukaemia, and the hope is that once further research on stem cell grafting is completed, this could help play a vital role in helping to treat cancer.

“Stem cells have also been widely used in South Africa to treat leukaemia”

More recently, Cytori has been working on using stem cell grafting on those who have suffered heart attacks. Again, heart disease is considered one of the leading risks of disease burden globally. According to the American Heart Association 2012 update, on average 795 000 Americans experience new, or recurrent heart attacks. Approximately 610 000 of these are first attacks, with 185 000 recurrent attacks. On average, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack, and this accounts for one out of every 18 deaths in the States. And according to the World Heart Federation, around 25% of South Africa's healthcare spending is devoted to cardiovascular disease.

Cytori was recently been granted permission by the FDA to initiate a 12-month clinical trial, following on from the success of their European trial. In the previous trials, fat tissue was taken from the abdomen of those patients who had recently suffered a heart attack; the stem and regenerative cells were separated from the fat tissue and infused back into the coronary artery of the patient. The patients were all treated less than 24 hours after they underwent a procedure intended to increase the blood flow through the damaged artery. According to Tom Baker, the Director of Investor Relations, those patients who received the stem cell injection in addition to standard treatments had less heart damage and better blood flow through the heart tissue than patients who were given standard treatments and a placebo. The stem cell patients have also had a better improvement of heart health over the 18-month period.

As Calhoun explains, published literature reveals that this should dramatically help reduce the rate of patients progressing to heart failure, recurring heart attacks, or even death.

Johan Kachelhoffer, of Divine Proportions, who are the local distributors of Cytori products, adds that they hope to be bringing the cardiac stem cell technology' to South .Africa by the end of the year.

And, says Calhoun, this is just the start of what stem cells and regenerative medical technology can achieve. Pillay concurs: "I firmly believe that potential uses of stem cell technology are limited only by the boundaries created within our own minds. We are fortunate to be living in an era where we now possess the knowledge and tools to solve a number of great medical conundrums."

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