The use of stem cells is opening a way to the treatment and cure of different illnesses, and this was discussed last weekend at a conference on regenerative medicine and cellular therapy in Fuengirola. The president of the Spanish Society of Regenerative Medicine and Cellular Therapy, Miguel Garber, says major advances have been made in the use of stem cells.
Why was Fuengirola chosen again for this conference, after it took place here last year?
The first conference was a success, with more than 184 professionals taking part, so we decided to come back to the same place. This time about 300 doctors participated.
In which areas are regenerative medicine and cellular therapy used most?
Regenerative medicine is multidisciplinary. At the conference we had cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, immunologists, orthopaedic specialists, cosmetic doctors and surgeons, etc.
What is the main function of regenerative medicine?
The objective is to be able to regenerate a patient's organs, so it is no longer necessary to carry out heart or kidney transplants, for example. We're nearly there, but not quite. In the meantime, what we have achieved with regenerative medicine is treating damaged tissues so they recover.
Have there been important advances in curing illnesses with cellular therapy?
Yes, there have. In many parts of the world it is already used to cure illnesses. The pharmaceutical institutions are using the stem cell base to generate medication to treat, for example, colonic fistulas in patients with Crohn's disease. It is a development which has been achieved as a result of studies done in Spain.
What is still needed, and what do we need to focus on?
Although the treatments with stem cells have shown scientific evidence that they do cure illnesses, we need more cases to be analysed to be able to determine that this type of therapy definitely functions.
What illnesses could benefit most from regenerative medicine and cellular therapy?
Right now, the most important ones concern the joints. Illnesses like arthritis, osteoarthritis, etc. It works well in general on anything to do with joints, and closing up colonic fistulas. Before, it was very difficult to close them and now that has been achieved thanks to regenerative medicine. It is also applied to ulcers on the lower limbs (diabetic foot) with very good results, and in diabetes. Right now it is being used in cardiology in an experimental manner to prevent cardiac insufficiency. It is also being used for illnesses such as Parkinsons. We still haven't found a way with Alzheimer's, but it is being studied. Another important advance has been with macular illness, and we believe that in future it will be a first-choice treatment.
Are there any legal problems in the use of this type of medicine?
There are no juridical problems. The legal aspects are the same as those of any profession. The use of stem cells is already regulated.
How are these types of therapies applied to cardiology?
We are seeing good progress, especially in the cardiology department at the Gregorio Marañón hospital in Madrid, where clinical tests are being carried out. We hope that in the near future we will be using stem cells in patients who have suffered a heart attack.
You say you're nearly there, but how much longer will it take?
I think it will be less than five years. We are on the final stretch, so I believe that within two years, or maybe less, we will have cellular therapies for heart patients of this type.
Is there sufficient research into cellular therapy in Spain?
As with everything, there are problems with research. However, there is quite a bit going on, although we need to do much more. The financing for research is always left until last. We're trying to convince the governments that they need to provide more money.