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Stem cell cure for incontinence

6 December 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 287

Austrian researchers have successfully treated women with urinary incontinence problems, using stem cells taken from the patients' own arm muscles. The group, based at the Medical University of Innsbruck say that a year later, 18 of the 20 women still have full control over their bladders. Lead researcher Ferdinand Frauscher presented the work at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Urinary, or 'stress' incontinence is thought to affect around 15 million people worldwide, most of them women. It is caused by shrinking muscles in the bladder sphincter and urethra wall, which can lead to urine leaking when a person laughs, exercises, coughs or sneezes. The Austrian team wanted to see if they could use stem cells to help patients regain bladder control, by building up the muscles again. They first removed a four millimetre cube of muscle from the arms of twenty women aged between 36-84. Then they extracted stem cells and grew them in the laboratory to produce around 50 million myoblasts, cells which form muscle fibres.

The scientists injected the stem cells into the urethra wall and bladder sphincter of each woman, using three dimensional ultrasound to make sure they ended up in exactly the right place. Within 24 hours, 90 per cent of the women had no urine leakage. After two weeks, an ultrasound examination revealed an increase in muscle tissue and contraction power. Frauscher said the myoblasts were 'very intelligent' cells. 'Not only do they stay where they are injected, but also they quickly form new muscle tissue and when the muscle mass reaches the appropriate size, the cell growth cease automatically'.

Frauscher said that the stem cell treatment appears to be more successful in women than men at this time. In men, incontinence is often caused by prostate surgery, which can leave scar tissue where stem cells do not grow very well. However, in men without scar tissue, the technique seems to work as well as in women, Frauscher said.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Patients' Own Stem Cells Used To Cure Incontinence
ScienceDaily |  1 December 2004
Stem cells rebuild bladder control
New Scientist |  29 November 2004
Stem cells to cure incontinence
BBC News Online |  30 November 2004
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