Stem Cell Therapy for Thyroid Issues: A New Frontier

Woman doing medical research in lab
Victor Torres/Stocksy United

One of the great hopes for stem cell regeneration therapy is the potential to grow healthy organs from scratch. In late 2014, MedPage Today reported that researchers in New York City had induced human embryonic stem cells into thyroid cells, and are exploring the possibility of creating a like-new thyroid gland in patients who have had their thyroid surgically removed. The research was announced at the 2014 annual American Thyroid Association meeting.

According to R. Michael Tuttle, MD of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, co-chair of the ATA scientific program: "It would be wonderful to be able to regrow a normal thyroid." As part of this research, Terry Davies, MD, and his colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City are investigating new strategies for inducing embryonic stem cells into thyroid cells.

While a tissue-engineered thyroid transplant may happen eventually, we are not at a point yet where patients are in a position stem cell-generated thyroid glands. But doctors are making regenerative medical strides today, treating some thyroid and endocrine patients with a different kind of stem cell: adult stem cells, aka autologous mesenchymal cells. These stem cells are derived from the patient's own adipose (fatty) tissue, and carry none of the ethical issues and controversies surrounding human embryonic stem cells.

Using technology pioneered by the Cell Surgical Network, a number of physicians are performing investigational applications of adult stem cell regenerative therapy in protocols described as "patient-funded testing." In this patient-funded protocol, patients - who are made fully aware of the investigational nature and the status of this type of procedure with the FDA -- can apply to be part of investigational review studies exploring the effects the treatment on several autoimmune diseases, including optic neuritis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and other conditions, including various orthopedic issues, peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson's disease, asthma , and other diseases and conditions.

Here's an overview of how the medical procedure works. A mini-liposuction yields what is known as "stromal vascular fraction" or SVF. The SVF is composed of millions of adult stem cells, as well as other growth factors. After a filtration process, the SVF is re-injected into the patient it is harvested from. Such autologous stem cell transplants – in which donor and recipient are the same patient eliminate chance of rejection, and are already showing promise in patients with various thyroid and endocrine disorders.

Judy Richardson, 56, of Wabash, Indiana, has struggled with Hashimoto's thyroiditis for a number of years. She learned of SVF treatment through research online, and sought out the physician in her area who offered the treatment. The doctor she found in her area is not an endocrinologist; he's a plastic surgeon, with years of practice performing liposuctions. Dr. Robert Jackson of Hamilton Surgical Arts in Noblesville, Indiana-- an affiliate of the Cell Surgical Network -- treated Richardson with her own fat-derived stem cells twice in 2013, injecting her harvested cells intravenously both times.

"After the first IV injection, I felt so much better," Richardson recalls. "I didn't get a cold for a year." Previously, she explains, "I was at the doctor every month getting antibiotic shots. I felt so bad I just wanted to die. My bones were so weak, I would wake up at night crying – I couldn't bear my own weight on my bones. My elbow popped out of its socket. My doctors thought I had bone cancer. It was terrible. I gave up on life."

Richardson says she continues to feel improvements since her second IV injection of SVF, and her endocrinologist -- Dr. Ashok Kadambi of Fort Wayne Endocrinology in Fort Wayne, Indiana -- has said he is thrilled with her progress post-SVF treatment. Dr. Kadambi was so impressed with Richardson's progress that he is considering becoming an affiliate of the Cell Surgical Network himself.

Richardson also suffers from Addison's disease, an endocrine condition that is more common in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. "My adrenals had pretty much quit functioning," she says. "I was on steroids, at a dosage of 20 milligrams per day."

Today, since her second SVF treatment, Richardson says, "I'm doing well enough that my endocrinologist is weaning me off of the steroids – I'm down to 4 milligrams per day." As for her thyroid replacement medications, says Richardson: "I was on 120 milligrams per day, but they've been lowering it consistently – I'm now down to 75 milligrams."

Another Hashimoto's patient, college student Davis Schrader, didn't have to search for a physician to treat his Hashimoto's disease. Davis's father is Dr. Lawrence Schrader of the Schrader Orthopedics and Stem Cell Treatment Center in Cordova, Tennessee.

During his training and accreditation at the California Stem Cell Treatment Center, and before becoming an affiliate of the Cell Surgical Network in 2012, Dr. Schrader himself underwent stem cell therapy to ease chronic pain in his shoulders and his torn right meniscus.

Meanwhile Davis, his eldest son, was diagnosed with various health problems while still in high school. According to Dr. Schrader: "He's a really great athlete, a star football player, but it seemed like he might have had asthma or a heart problem. He was always out of breath, and seemed to have lost his endurance. We had him checked out, and his thyroid was low plus he tested positive for Hashimoto's. So his doctor put him on Armour thyroid."

The following year, when Davis went off to college, his father recalls: "It seemed like he was struggling with sleep and concentration, and just feeling sluggish and run-down. We had to pull him out of semester because he just wasn't making it medically."

At that point, Schrader decided to try stem cell therapy on his son. Impressed by the medical literature he'd studied about the immunomodulatory property of adult stem cells, Schrader gave his son an IV transplant of SVF. Today, the proud dad reports, "He's probably 80-90 percent better. He went back to school and ended the semester with a B average!"


This treatment is considered investigational. You can read more about the status of the treatment with the FDA here.

Not every thyroid or endocrine patient -- or those with other conditions being treated with SVF - is a good candidate for this treatment. And at this point, given that it is an investigational treatment, insurance usually does not cover the costs, which is why the treatment is typically patient-funded.

But for those interested in exploring this cutting-edge treatment, a good first step is to contact one of the physicians who is a member of the Cell Surgical Network and who is familiar with the SVF/stem cell therapy. For a detailed and compelling account of a successful autologous stem cell transplant, which cured author Julia Szabo's chronic inflammatory bowel disease -- as well as her dog's osteoarthritis -- I recommend reading her book: Medicine Dog: The Miraculous Cure That Healed My Best Friend And Saved My Life .

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