Stem Cells From Placentas Show Potential in Treating Heart Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and More

An Israeli biotechnology firm is betting that stem cells harvested from human placentas can help treat a host of diseases--and strengthen muscles in the process.

stem cell extraction

An Israeli biotechnology firm is harvesting stem cells from human placentas that appear to successfully treat multiple sclerosis, diabetes, alcoholism, and even sports-related injuries. Pluristem Therapeutics processes stem cells obtained from donors' placentas into a variety of ready-to-use medications, which is more than just cool science--it's also an indication of where biotech will be headed over the next decade.

Pluristem CEO Zami Aberman told Fast Company that the stem cells obtained from "one placenta can help treat 10,000 people." The company's latest project is a preclinical trial at New York University to test whether placenta-derived stem cells can be used to treat diabetic foot ulcers. Diabetic foot ulcers occur in more than 10% of all patients with the disease and frequently lead to amputation. Doctors at NYU are hoping that the stem cells can help successfully grow new blood vessels from pre-existing blood vessels in patients' feet and to help aid in tissue regeneration.

Pluristem explainer

The core of Pluristem's arsenal of stem cells consists of a proprietary line marketed under the name of PLacental eXpanded (PLX). The PLX cells are developed from adherent stromal cells harvested from human placentas following birth that are then placed in a bioreactor for several weeks. The bioreactor expands the cells, which are later separated from the culture used in the bioreactor.

According to Aberman, potential donors sign a consent form allowing for their placentas to be used for stem cell extraction. The cells are then extracted using a proprietary method in the bioreactor shortly after.

Pluristem currently markets PLX cells for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, peripheral artery disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and for stroke recovery. The company's reports indicated that stem cell treatment helped improve post-stroke physical coordination:

Pluristem employed spontaneously hypertensive male rats, suffering from hypercholesterolemia and diabetes for their proof-of-concept model. Experimental brain ischemia was induced via occlusion of the middle cerebral artery, a major artery taking blood into the brain. This was followed by the intravenous injection of with PLX-STROKE or saline solution which served as a control. Experimental groups treated with PLX-STROKE showed a significant reduction in the functional deficiencies caused by the inducement of the stroke as recorded by walking on a beam. Additionally, a Modified Neurological Severity Score (mNSS) conducted on animals treated with PLX-STROKE showed superiority compared to the control group.


Patients receiving treatment with the PLX cells have them directly injected into the target area.

Other stem cell products marketed or tested by Pluristem appear to help patients with chronic pain, sports injuries, and side effects from alcoholism. A medical test in Germany appears to indicate that placenta-derived stem cells can be used to treat neuropathic pain from causes such as diabetes, chemotherapy, and long-term alcohol abuse. Meanwhile, the company is attempting to test the usefulness of their PLX cells for treatment of sports injuries such as hamstring tears. This will include a Investigational New Drug (IND) application and a Phase II clinical trial of Pluristem's cells to test their ability to help strengthen pelvic girdle muscles after hip replacement.

There are profits to be made in the area--approximately $30 billion is spent annually in the therapeutic and regenerative cellular market.

It is important to note that Pluristem's method of extracting stem cells from the placenta does not involve embryos in any way. A variety of other biotech firms are marketing stem cells and banking plans obtained from other methods, including bone marrow extraction and umbilical cords.

[Images courtesy Pluristem]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

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