Facing amputation, doctors harvest, inject stem cells to grow new vessels
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – By the end of the day, 400 more Americans, on average, will have a leg amputated because of a condition known as peripheral arterial disease, or PAD*. It’s a debilitating disease in which plaque builds up in blood vessels and slowly chokes off blood supply to the lower legs.
Often the most effective way to treat PAD is for doctors to perform bypass surgery, in which transplanted blood vessels are sewn into the leg to keep blood flowing around the blockage. Unfortunately, that’s not a viable option for all of the 8-12 million Americans who suffer from PAD.**
“Up to 50% of patients in this situation are not candidates for bypass surgery for a variety of reasons, and most of these patients end up with no options” said Dr. Michael Go, MD, a vascular surgeon at Ohio State University Medical Center. “As a result, 150,000 people a year in the United States have to undergo amputation.”
So, Dr. Go and his team are helping to pioneer a new therapies. “One of the new ideas that we are investigating is the use of a patient’s own stem cells to stimulate the growth of new, healthy blood vessels” said Go. “We harvest stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow, isolate and purify the stem cells, then we inject them into the affected limb.” If all goes as planned, new blood vessels quickly begin to web through the lower legs, healing the diseased tissue by delivering badly needed oxygen and nutrients.
It’s an approach Dr. Go recommended to 57-year old Chuck Schreckengost of Grove City, Ohio. By his count, Mr. Schreckengost has undergone 25 surgeries in the last 25 years to deal with his peripheral arterial disease. “Sometimes they would do bypasses” he said, “other times they would just take the whole artery out and replace it with a graft. But I’m at the point now, that I can’t have any more bypasses. There have just been so many over the years, they can’t do anymore” said Schreckengost. “Now, it’s all leading up to amputation.”
Running out of time and options, Mr. Schreckengost went to see Dr. Go at Ohio State University Medical Center. Simply by looking at a sore on Mr. Schreckengost’s toe, Dr. Go knew what he was dealing with.
“He’s finally come to the point where his disease is so advanced, that traditional bypass surgery is not an option” said Dr. Go. “If you and I were to get a cut on a toe it would heal in a couple of days and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But a simple cut on the toe for Mr. Schreckengost starts, gets infected, the wound progresses and gets larger and larger, eventually turning into gangrene.”
That’s when Dr. Go enrolled Mr. Schreckengost into a medical trial in which he harvested stem cells from the bone marrow in his hip and injected them into his calf. In a matter of days, color returned Mr. Schreckengost’s lower leg and the tell-tale sore on his foot began to shrink.
“Since his stem cell injection procedure, he’s had a lot of improvement in pain and that ulcer has healed” said Dr. Go. “It’s still obviously very early in the trial, but so far results are encouraging.”
“I can walk about 200 feet now before I have to stop and rest” said Mr. Schreckengost. And while that may not seem far to most people, it’s an encouraging sign for him. Just weeks ago he was facing the reality of losing a leg to amputation, but now, thanks to the innovative use of his own stem cells, Mr. Schreckengost is making strides toward recovery he never thought was possible.
*Evaluation of patients with peripheral vascular disease, Thrombosis Research, Volume 106, Issue 6, June 2002. Online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049384801003668
**Peripheral Arterial Disease Fact Sheet, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, retrieved online from: http://www.cdc.gov/DHDSP/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_PAD.htm