Stem Cells and Future Treatments for Urinary Incontinence

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • We often see the stem cell debate in the political arena presented as a singular, boiled-down talking point designed to sway voters one way or the other. What we miss in the three-second sound bite are the numerous ways in which stem cells are being used to combat health care challenges of all kinds, including leukemia, type 1 diabetes, and spinal cord damage. And according to recent research, the day may be coming when we can add incontinence to that ever-growing list. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the topic of stem cell research all too often obscures the fact that there are many different ways to harvest the cells.

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    There are three main categories of stem cells, referring to where the stem cells are harvested from: embryonic, adult or somatic, and cord blood. What is most often debated is the use of embryonic stem cells, which are harvested from embryos. Adult, or somatic, stem cells are cells found in living organisms that have the ability to divide and reproduce an identical or different cell. "Adult" stem cells can also be found in children. Cord blood stem cells are found in the umbilical cord.


    The recent clinical trial that researched the effects of stem cell therapy on individuals with stress urinary incontinence utilized adult stem cells found in the patient's leg. Doctors removed a small amount of leg muscle and sent it to a lab where researchers isolated and grew the stem cells. A few weeks later the stem cells were injected into the patient's urethra, helping to strengthen bladder control and prevent leakage. Sixty percent of the study participants reported improved bladder control after one year, with no side effects. Besides being a possibly effective treatment of stress incontinence, the stem cell treatment is particularly appealing because it's only about a twenty-minute procedure, and its outpatient. The researchers claim you can go back to your normal activities afterwards.


    Similar studies have been done during the past few years, and they also show promising results. However, it's important to keep in mind that the studies regarding the usage of stem cells for incontinence are in the very early stages, and a great deal more research is still needed. It's estimated to be anywhere from three years to more than ten years before this treatment is widely available, so, if you're interested, you've got a bit of a wait ahead of you. But it's always good to know that there are some creative treatments in the pipelines!

Published On: July 30, 2007