Two years after Uadayan Patel, 66, decided to become a ‘guinea pig’ for an experiment to use fat-derived stem cell therapy to find a cure for his chronic lung disease, he has no regrets.
For Patel, the relatively unknown therapy offered a slim hope for his degenerative disease — idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) — which causes the lungs to become scarred and stiffened leading to progressive difficulty in breathing.
It was in March 2009 that Patel, a psychoanalyst, started suffering from frequent bouts of dry cough. Soon, he was unable to walk even ten steps without gasping for breath. “I was unable to talk for more than two minutes. All my physical activities were restricted,” said the Bhulabhai Desai Road resident.
Despite medication, Patel’s health suddenly deteriorated in November 2009 and he was put on oxygen therapy to boost the supply of oxygen to his blood stream.
“There is no known treatment to reverse the progression of IPF and life expectancy from the time of diagnosis is only three to five years,” said Bombay Hospital pulmonologist, Dr Pratibha Singhal, who is treating Patel.
With the option of a lung transplant ruled out, as it would require an extended stay abroad, Patel was desperate for options.
When a friend told him about the Cooperage-based Kasiak Research, which was doing research on the efficacy of stem cells derived from body fat to cure chronic illnesses such as diabetic foot ulcers and liver disease, he decided to take a chance.
“I didn’t want to die. I told them that I was willing to risk the new therapy and signed the consent form.”
Last May, fat (adipose) was extracted from Patel’s body from which the stem cells were isolated and injected back into his body, said Vijay Sharma, a scientist at Kasiak.
Since the stem cells are derived from the patient’s body, the risk of an allergic reaction was negligent.
Now, Patel’s lung function tests, oxygen saturation on exercise and psychical activities have shown significant improvement, said Dr Singhal.
“My capacity to walk and talk has improved significantly. I no more feel the unnerving breathlessness and tiredness. I do weights at the gym, can drive my car and eat out at restaurants,” said Patel.
“We are now doing his follow-up vigorously. We selected IPF because of the unmet medical need in this area,” he added.
“On seeing his clinical condition, it is possible that the stem cells have regenerated the damaged tissue in his lungs, however, this needs to be proved scientifically,” said Sharma.
Dr Singhal said that Patel is possibly the first known Indian with IPF to have tried fat derived stem cell therapy. “At present, clinical trials using stem cells are in progress in Greece to find a cure for IPF and we are likely to have trials in India soon.”