Stem cells have created a lot of buzz in the medical and scientific community, and with good reason. They have the potential to not only get to the root cause of diseases like cancer, but to generate healthy cells to replace sick ones and facilitate recovery.
Today, we’ll investigate the latest discoveries in stem cell research from a pioneer in the field and see how they could help you or a loved one heal.
Stem cells are found in every organ of the body but are most abundant in bone marrow. They can remain as they are, non-dividing and non-specific, in a dormant or quiescent state for years until needed, or they can divide and develop (differentiate) into almost any type of cell in the body.
Because of these remarkable traits, stem cells have great potential to regenerate the immune system, repair dysfunctional, injured and diseased cells, and to grow new healthy tissue.
Many researchers believe that stem cells hold the key to unlocking future treatments for cancer, not only because of their healing power, but because, researchers say, stem cells also cause cancer.
The stem cell theory of cancer
The stem cell theory of cancer states that these cells are the origin of the disease in most cases.
Generally speaking, the underlying process of cancer development relates to cellular changes that happen during the aging process.
More specifically, when body organs age, changes occur within the stem cells they contain that may eventually turn them into harmful cancer stem cells. Here’s the hypothesis: Stem cells remain in quiescence—dormancy— until they are switched on as needed for the next stage of development in which they become progenitor, or active, stem cells. These then differentiate to create specialized cell types.
The cancer develops in the quiescent cells because of detrimental processes that take place with aging. Even so, these cancerous cells cause no physical illness if they remain in this dormant stage.
The trouble comes when the quiescent stem cells are turned on and pass the cancer on to the now active progenitor stem cells. And it’s in those active cells where cancer is first detectable in laboratory tests.
To make matters worse, the science shows that although the quiescent cancer stem cells turn on to produce progenitors initially, they eventually go back into quiescence, and remain as cancer stem cells. This, researchers say, is why treatments like chemotherapy often fail to stop cancer from recurring.
When chemotherapy fails
The reason cancer so often returns after chemotherapy is because the drugs clear the progenitor stem cells but not the quiescent stem cells. Chemotherapy appears to be successful but when the quiescent stem cells that are cancerous next turn back on, the disease returns.
Another aspect of aging that impacts the development and treatment of cancer is the decline in immune system function, called immune senescence, which accelerates after the age of 65. This immune cell decline includes natural killer (NK) cells that are needed to target cancer.
What’s more, during this process stem cells become fewer and fewer. The numbers of functioning stem cells sink to such low levels that people become vulnerable to many of the diseases of aging such as cancer.
Chemotherapy itself also damages the immune system, as you’ve read here many, many times.
So how can all of these problems be overcome? Dr. Dipnarine Maharaj, a pioneer in stem cell research, immunotherapy and immune regenerative medicine, believes his research provides an answer.
Cancer is a breakdown of immune surveillance
In the 1980s Dr. Maharaj was a member of the University of Glasgow team that pioneered the use of stem cell transplants for leukemia. Their work became the standard of care in this area.
Today, he is the founder and medical director of the Maharaj Institute of Immune Regenerative Medicine, The Stem Cell Cryobank and the Advanced Stem Cell Education Program (ASTEP).
Patients with blood cancers often turn up at his door after they’ve been told by their oncologist that nothing more can be done for them. Dr. Maharaj is convinced that the cure for cancer lies in correcting a faulty or under-performing immune system that is no longer able to adequately seek out and destroy cancer cells.
“My experience over the last 30 years as a transplant physician is that we get results when we correct the immune system; when we reinstate immune surveillance. Cancer is a breakdown of immune surveillance. When you reinstate immune surveillance, cancer goes away.”
Harnessing stem cells for healing
Donors with the correct tissue match are preferred in treating many cancers because they have a normal immune system, however Dr. Maharaj prefers to use the patient’s own stem cells.
Not only is there a shortage of suitable donors, but Dr. Maharaj typically treats multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and leukemia.
Using the patients’ own stem cells is preferable because these patients tend to be older, leading to more frequent graft-versus-host rejection and other complications that are common when donors are used.
This led to the development of a different approach from the conventional one which doesn’t consider how much residual cancer is left in the bone marrow, where stem cells are generated. He regards patient survival as unacceptably low in these cases.
“We have found,” he explains, “that we first need to get the tumor load to the point where it is undetectable by conventional methods.
“Only then will we collect some of the bone marrow and store it, destroy the residual cancer in the patient with high dose chemotherapy and put the stem cells back in.”
The clean stem cells are able to boost or reset the immune system so that any remaining cancer cells can be sought out and destroyed. “We’re enabling the body’s own immunity to fight the cancer. It’s exciting,” he says.
Dr. Maharaj has also found a way to mitigate many of the harmful effects of chemotherapy.
Patients recover at home
Of course, high dose chemotherapy is not only extremely toxic, it severely suppresses immunity. This causes major problems related to catching infections.
His approach involves the prophylactic use of antibiotics, close monitoring of all potential toxicities, and largely mitigating typical side effects by administering anti-nausea and other medications before treatment.
Many other stem cell transplant centers have now taken up this way of working, but there’s one aspect of Dr. Maharaj’s treatment that isn’t yet standard.
Dr. Maharaj sees the hospital setting as where severe hospital-acquired infections and complications occur, so he prefers to let his patients recover at home. In this way prolonged hospitalization is avoided, patients remain with their loved ones, and they return to their normal activities sooner, an approach that’s proven successful over many years.
Perhaps more important, the patients’ mental well-being is also improved by being in their own surroundings. Dr. Maharaj regards this as crucial.
“When patients know they are going home instead of staying in a hospital, the obvious positive psychological effect improves their outcome.”
Stem cell collection important
Dr. Maharaj urges people to have some of their own stem cells collected when they are young and healthy, ideally between the ages of 17 and 30, but it’s still worthwhile even when much older.
These can be stored and frozen in The Stem Cell Cryobank and used at a later date if needed.
Dr. Maharaj says that one of the reasons he moved towards developing the work he’s doing comes from long term survivors of bone marrow transplants. When he looked at their immune system he saw NK function had reverted back to normal.
Some patients with chronic myeloid leukemia were in complete remission twenty years on, yet cancer stem cells still remained in their bone marrow. They didn’t relapse because their immune system recovered and immune surveillance was restored so the cancer stem cells were blocked at source. If they did turn back on, then the immune system would spot the cancer cells and kill them.
Treatment still has side effects
Not all successfully treated transplant survivors are so lucky. Some return with secondary leukemias from the damage caused not by the stem cells but by the high dose chemotherapy.]
Chemotherapy also causes some stem cells to become senescent, or to grow old and no longer useful.
Interestingly, Dr. Maharaj no longer carries out bone marrow transplants. Instead he focuses entirely on restoring the immune system.
How to restore the immune system
This involves measuring the immune system based on a blood sample. Dr. Maharaj looks at a hundred markers within an immune panel, evaluates dysfunction and comes up with strategies to correct it.
He considers everything relevant such as diet and lifestyle, gut microbiome analysis, micronutrients, heavy metals, toxins, latent viruses, etc. He also looks at the genetics of the cancer to find a targeted immunotherapy.
An example of the success of his immune restoration approach was published in the journal Future Science in 2019.
A 39-year-old patient from England was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2015. He had a stem cell transplant but relapsed after six months. His prognosis was poor and considered terminal. He traveled to Florida and received non-toxic personalized immunotherapy treatment from Dr. Maharaj.
The result? In the summer of 2021 he was training to compete in a half ironman triathlon.
Another example was published in the journal Cells last January.
Chemotherapy had been unsuccessful in a 56-year-old woman with an aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Her prognosis was grim.
Six months after personalized immunotherapy treatment, no cancer cells could be found in her blood and she was in complete remission. At nine months follow up, she was still in remission.
Dr. Maharaj and his colleagues wrote, “The dualistic approach of low dose immunotherapy with the addition of low dose targeted therapy can amplify anti-tumor NK cell functional activity while directly destroying cancer cells.”
Dr. Maharaj is currently carrying out a trial of a new cancer treatment in patients with solid tumors that does more than restore the immune system. It supercharges it.
The origins of the treatment go back to 1999 when Dr. Zheng Cui from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C. transferred lethal cancer cells into mice. This would normally kill them. Astonishingly, one mouse didn’t develop tumors regardless of the amount of cancer cells it was injected with.
How was this possible?
Upon closer investigation the doctor and his colleagues found this mouse had a “unique trait of host resistance” found entirely within white blood cells. This mouse had far more cancer killing granulocytes. Researchers also found this trait was transferable to the offspring allowing a colony of super-immune mice to breed.
When mice with cancer were injected with these supercharged immune cells they were totally cured of cancer, remained healthy, and had a normal lifespan.
Could humans be cured in the same way?
There’s good reason to be optimistic because the profound naturally-occurring cancer killing activity (CKA) in the granulocytes has also been found in some people.
Granulocytes are our most abundant white blood cells and part of the body’s first line defense, but their CKA can vary enormously among people. This might explain why some remain resistant to cancer throughout their lives while others succumb. Cancer patients have also been found to have lower CKA levels than similarly aged healthy people.
A new trial is underway to explore CKA in humans. Researchers have taken a group of healthy young volunteers and screened their blood for CKA levels and other factors. The blood of those with high levels is then matched to specific patients.
Volunteers and patients are still being recruited for this trial, but we should know whether transferring high CKA granulocytes and other immune factors to cancer patients is successful when the trial is due to end next December.
For further information about the Maharaj Institute and Dr. Maharaj’s work visit https://www.stemcellimmuneregenerative.com/
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkOXC4o30u4 Dr. Ralph Moss in coversation with Dr Maharaj
- https://www.buzzsprout.com/1781895/8943538 Terminal to Triathlon – Immune Regenerative Medicine with Dr Maharaj
- https://www.future-science.com/doi/10.2144/fsoa-2019-0009 Molecular remission using low-dose immunotherapy for relapsed refractory Philadelphia chromosome-positive precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia post-allogeneic stem cell transplant
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7822209/ Molecular Remission Using Low-Dose Immunotherapy with Minimal Toxicities for Poor Prognosis IGHV—Unmutated Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164507/ Spontaneous regression of advanced cancer: Identification of a unique genetically determined, age-dependent trait in mice