The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. It plays an important role in regulating the metabolism of the body among other functions. Thyroid disease causes excessive or reduced production of the associated hormones, which are associated with several symptoms and significantly affect the quality of life of a patient.
There is no specific cause of thyroid disease. Disorders may arise due to iodine deficiency, which appears important for the functioning of the gland, or secondary to autoimmune conditions, radiation therapy, inflammation, surgery (for cancer or other conditions affecting the gland), or genetic factors.
Various thyroid conditions are treated with medications, radioiodine, and surgery. However, there is a risk of permanent hypothyroidism (reduced thyroid function) with the latter two treatment modalities.
In certain thyroid cancer cases, a combination of surgery and radioiodine therapy may be indicated to ensure the complete removal of cancerous tissue. Despite the different therapeutic options, patients would require life-long medications, which can affect the overall quality of life.
Thus, the need is a newer approach to manage thyroid diseases and maintain the patient’s quality of life. One such novel treatment is regenerative medicine and cell-based therapy.
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Cell-based therapy works on the principle that our body has inherent regenerative potential. Cells and growth factors in our body can regulate the immune system and create an environment that is suitable for the regeneration and repair of damaged tissues.
In autoimmune thyroid disease (e.g., Hashimoto’s disease), this property of stem cells stabilizes fluctuating hormone levels and prevents further destruction of the thyroid cells and tissue. Moreover, stem cells enhance the functions of other cells involved in healing, ultimately ensuring homeostasis (internal balance) of the gland.
Stem cells in our body also have an anti-inflammatory property that aids in reducing inflammation, thereby normalizing the functioning of organ and tissues.
Similarly, in cases of thyroid cancer, immunotherapy, which utilizes certain cells of the immune system to specifically target cancer cells, can be performed. There are several advances in dendritic cell, natural killer cell, T cell therapies, among others that aim to ‘educate’ these immune cells to spare normal tissues and target only cancer cells.
Another option is the use of molecular chaperones, which are helper molecules that aid in the proper folding of proteins. As we know, proteins are the building blocks of the body, thus this form of treatment will help in maintaining the structural and functional integrity of proteins.
In summary, by utilizing the various properties of stem cells, growth factors, and immune effectors in our body, regenerative medicine can provide definitive results in various thyroid diseases in a minimally invasive manner.
Future medical advances should ideally focus on identifying and addressing the pathology of the various conditions, which will provide effective and long-term results.
Dr Pradeep Mahajan is a Regenerative Medicine Researcher at StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai.