The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Could Stem Cells Help in the Fight?
As they stormed Omaha Beach in Normandy, no one was watching over them. When they scurried across the decks of destroyers and aircraft carriers as sirens alerted of the enemy circling above, they weren’t thinking about their health. Sifting through the jungle, constantly damp and caked in mud, they didn’t know what Agent Orange was and if they did, they still would have fought. When they enlisted, they weren’t looking for a job; they were answering a call, a duty they felt required to fulfill. Unfortunately now, the veterans of WWII, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam and every military action since are seeing their health decline. Some have developed health conditions directly affected by their service while others are simply dealing with ailments that affect the civilian population as well. One of the most prominent health conditions affecting veterans are debilitating lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis.
A recent study conducted by the Veterans Administration in Cincinnati found that the prevalence of COPD among veterans is much higher than the general population. Younger veterans, those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, were regularly subjected to air pollution from burn pits, exploded IEDs and aeroallergens found in the desert region. More seasoned veterans faced chemical pollutants like Agent Orange that have contribute to their degrading lung function. Given the limited resources available to veterans, whose military pension equates to approximately 60% of the income of an average household in the specific county they live in, treatment options for incurable lung diseases have left veterans looking outside the VA for answers.
Don’t these men and women, the ones that have offered their lives and their futures for the protection of all Americans, deserve more? Don’t they deserve options, answers and a treatment that might help them get back to the life they want? The answer is an emphatic yes of course, and some veterans have found that these options may lie in stem cell therapy to treat their lung disease.
Stem cells have become a buzzword in the news over the past few years. However, much of the talk is about fetal stem cells. Few people are talking about adult, autologous stem cells that are present in all of our bodies. Functioning as our body’s system to promote healing, these cells live in blood, bone marrow and fat tissue. They naturally respond to injury or illness; however, stem cells don’t move quickly, hence our bodies don’t instantly heal when we get sick. Autologous stem cell therapy can expedite this natural healing process.
The Lung Institute physicians extract stem cells through a minimally invasive procedure, separate them and then reintroduce them to the lungs. This quickens healing by directing the cells—and their healing properties—toward the diseased area. The result is healthier tissue growing in place of damaged tissue, and although this doesn’t cure the disease, it slows further degeneration and brings a normal life back within reach.
When I think of veterans, I’m reminded of my grandpa, a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII and the Korean War. As is the same with most veterans, failure was not a term he was acquainted with. However, teamwork was in his daily vocabulary because that is how they operated under fire as a team. Help does not mean that you have failed; it means that you’re not in it alone. Help is exactly what veterans deserve whether they would admit it or not. Just like my grandfather served because he found it to be his duty, I feel it is my duty to serve veterans when they come home. We can help by providing solutions to their problems, and for those struggling to breathe because of their chronic lung disease, stem cells may be the solution.