Stem Cells Show Promise for Incontinence

Published Online: Saturday, January 1, 2005

A new study has found that stem cells may help women recover from incontinence. Presenting the data at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting (November 29, 2004), the Austrian researchers reported that they used their patients'own stem cells to treat urinary incontinence. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that eventually grow into the myriad specific cells the body needs for specific functions.

The researchers took stem cells from the arms of 20 females with stress incontinence, aged 36 to 84. The stem cells were cultured, producing tens of millions of new cells, and then were injected into the wall of the urethra and into the sphincter muscle. The investigators determined that the cells stayed where they had been injected, and, when enough muscle had been formed, they stopped growing. The results of the study showed that all the women experienced improved muscle mass and contractility of the sphincter and a thicker urethra. In fact, a year after the initial procedure 18 of the 20 patients remained continent.

The researchers are continuing their follow-up with patients, who underwent the procedure as far back as October 2002. Men also may benefit from the procedure. Lead author Ferdinand Frauscher, MD, said that the procedure has been tried in a few men after prostate surgery. "It should work well, especially after radical prostatectomy, because the sphincter is one of the most important muscles for maintaining continence." He cautioned, "If there are large scars, this might be a limitation."

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