Tijuana cardiologist honored for innovative stem-cell therapy

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Dr Juan José Parcero Valdés 

by Moisés Márquez

An eighty-year-old woman from the United States was able to keep her leg thanks to a team of doctors from the Tijuana Institute for Regenerative Medicine who successfully introduced stem cells into an incurable lesion left by radiation therapy.

The patient was treated last year at Hospital Ángeles Tijuana as part of a stem-cell study begun in 2010. Dr Juan José Parcero Valdés, a local cardiologist and the primary investigator of that study, was honored by the National Cardiology Association of Mexico for his work on that case. The CADECI Nacional award, presented to Parcero on 24 February 2012 at the association’s annual convention in Guadalajara, recognizes the country’s best research.

Stem cells are unspecialized cells of the body that change into the specialized cells of various tissues. They can be implanted into different parts of the body and onto damaged or sick tissues, transforming themselves into that type of tissue and functioning as such.

The patient in this case was at the point of having her leg amputated because of a chronic lesion. The lesion, a result of being exposed to radioactivity in curing a cancer she had, resisted conventional treatments. Stem-cell therapy was considered in the last resort. She received that treatment May 2011; her radiation wound was determined to be ninety-five percent cured nine months later.

The pre-treatment photograph in her case-file shows two holes or craters of dead tissue that did not close despite having received skin grafts. The post-treatment photograph shows the same lesion totally closed and almost completely healed by new tissue and blood vessels created from the introduced stem cells.

During an interview, Parcero described the procedure used for this patient. About two hundred milliliters of abdominal fat was removed by liposuction and then taken to a laboratory where it was separated. Approximately two hundred million stem cells were obtained and introduced into the patient’s wound by means of a special catheter.

Hospital Ángeles Tijuana

The specialist commented that, in the Tijuana Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which is directed by Dr Javier López, there are currently thirty protocols, that is to say, clincial trials involving people with various diseases, designed to learn if patients’ lives might be improved by stem-cell therapy. Taking part in these protocols are three Mexican patients; all the rest are from the United States and Canada.

These therapies are still being studied and have not yet been approved for general use, explained Parcero, so it will take several years’ more work before they can be considered generally safe and effective. The studies are being conducted under the scrutiny of an ethics committee made up of prominent doctors who watch over the procedures and take care that the patients don’t incur unnecessary risks.

The object is to find therapies that improve a patient’s quality of life: an effective therapy does not have to offer a complete cure so long as the patient might enjoy better health or live longer. As such, cellular regeneration as produced by stem-cell therapies is a promising alternative to conventional treatments for heart disease and diabetes.

Unfortunately, laments the doctor, there is little official support in Mexico for these scientific advances. The work being done in Tijuana has to be financed through the non-profit organization that underwrites the Tijuana Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Originally published in El Informador de Baja California, nº 125. Republished in translation by kind permission.