Stem Cells: Do They Work as a Treatment for Lyme Disease?

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Stem cells were discovered in 1981 by scientists studying mouse embryos. This discovery opened up research into the possibility of human stem cells being used to treat disease, and the first successful extraction of human stem cells took place in 1998.

One of the many conditions thought to be improved by stem cell therapy is Lyme disease.

What’s Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a potentially serious bacterial infection that develops in humans bitten by infected ticks. Like most things, it’s easier to treat if diagnosed early. If you have any concerning symptoms, visit your doctor as soon as possible.

Most people who are bitten by ticks won’t develop the condition; only a small percentage of ticks carry the infection. Ticks can only pass on Lyme disease if they have already bitten an infected animal, but it’s still important to be vigilant if you’re walking in a high-risk area. Not all tick bites hurt! Check your skin carefully to make sure. If you’re bitten, you should safely remove the tick as soon as possible.

Spotting the Signs

Even though infection with Lyme disease is unlikely, understanding what to look for is vital. The first noticeable sign is usually a red rash that looks like a bull’s-eye, which can develop as much as three months after the initial tick bite and can last for several weeks. Others will experience flu-like symptoms such as high temperature, shivers, headaches, and muscle pain.

Stem Cells – Lyme Disease

If it’s allowed to progress, Lyme disease can cause tissue damage throughout the body. The joints, muscles, nerves, and immune system can all be affected.

Stem cells, as they have the potential to develop into all kinds of cells, could be useful in the treatment of Lyme disease as they can promote new cell growth, work as an anti-inflammatory, and even regulate immune functions. Stem cell therapies could heal or repair damaged nerves, immune cells, joints, and muscles.

Embryonic stem cells aren’t currently used to treat Lyme disease in the United States due to ethical considerations. Patients can opt for stem cell treatment with adipose-derived stem cells, or ADSC, that come from fat cells or umbilical cord stem cells (UCSC).  

ADSC stem cells are mesenchymal stem cells. These MSC cells develop into the body’s supportive tissues (fat, cartilage, bone). ADSC cells are programmed to develop into fat tissues, but may be able to also develop into cartilage, muscle, or bone. More research is needed in this area.

UCSC stem cells are derived from umbilical cord blood and are programmed to grow into red and white blood cells (white blood cells are the basis of the human immune system). There are now a number of UCSC treatments that are FDA-approved to treat blood and immune system conditions, such as leukemia. Umbilical cord stem cells that aren’t blood cells, such as cells found in the covering of the cord itself, may be able to develop into fat, bone, muscle, or cartilage, though this is unlikely and again, more research is needed.