Ernst von Schwarz is a triple board-certified internist, cardiologist and heart transplant cardiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the Heart Institute of the Southern California Hospital. He is also a world-renowned stem cell researcher who considers that “stem cell therapy to be the most important discovery in modern medicine, likely bigger than the discovery of penicillin or the detection of the tuberculous bacteria.” In his new book, The Secret World of Stem Cell Therapy, he provides answers to everything you ever wanted to know about stem cells but didn’t know who to ask in this well- researched, phenomenally informative book.
Dr. Ernst von Schwarz sits down with Silicon Valley Times to discuss the future opportunities with stem cell therapy and other topics from his book, The Secret World of Stem Cell Therapy.
What is your book about and who did you write it for?
This is a consumer book for everyone who is interested in their own health and how to preserve it. The book is about the future of medicine, the enormous potential of stem cell therapy as a tool to defy aging and diseases, already today.
When a person googles “stem cell therapy,” there is a massive number of advertisements and an abundance of confusing information available. What do you suggest individuals do to navigate this overload?
Read my book — it will tell you how to navigate and how to distinguish advertising and marketing from scientific facts. There is no quality control for any internet-based information, but there is always ways to differentiate. One example is to look up which large stem cell studies a company who advertises stem cell therapies has participated in (if any) and/or which scientific papers have their doctors published in peer-reviewed international scientific journals, which can be found on Pubmed (a governmental website for all scientific publications listed in international indexes) by just typing in the doctors name, and all his/her publications will show up. If there are no publications, that means the doctor has not published any study data, ever.
I read in your book a little bit about the promising stem cell therapies for heart disease. How promising are these therapies and for which aspects of heart disease?
As a cardiologist and in particular, a transplant cardiologist, I am dealing with the sickest of the sick heart patients every day. I have seen very promising results in patients with congestive heart failure with regard to improvement of symptoms and possibly a reduction of the progression of the disease (even though there is no cure, yet). Furthermore, in patients with intractable angina (meaning ongoing daily chest pains despite medications and without any options to recanalize blocked arteries by surgery or balloon angioplasty), stem cells have shown a significant improvement in symptoms and improved quality of life in certain patients.
The most relevant improvements I personally have seen in patients with severe peripheral vascular disease (blocked arteries in the legs) with leg pains and non-healing ulcers and open wounds on the legs with complete healing of those wounds, relief of pain, and avoidance of foot or leg amputations in several individuals.
In your book you note the challenges with FDA and stem cell therapy. If you had an opportunity to sit down with FDA, what would you want this agency to know?
I had several discussions with representatives of the FDA over the years. It is the job of the FDA to protect individuals from unapproved therapies that could potentially harm, which is a great thing. On the other hand, the FDA should consider that several therapies are done outside the frame of large NIH sponsored studies in controlled laboratories, and there are many treatments available nowadays that might benefit certain patients who might not fit into the inclusion criteria of stringent study protocols, mainly because they might be too old or too sick. With appropriate oversight, there should be ways to enable patients to benefit from stem cell therapies even though it is not approved as long as the potential risks are declared, rather than having patients travel internationally to get it done elsewhere without any quality control or clinical and scientific reputation.
Let’s talk about the business of stem cells. According to Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, 2021 was important for the development of new gene-, cell- and tissue-based therapies and that they expect this year we will see more progress in advanced therapies. Are there specific therapies you are excited about and/or do you have a message for this industry?
The progress had been slow, to say the truth, mainly because of lack of funding and financial support, especially since no big pharma is supporting stem cell research at the current time. Just recently, however, large companies such as Google, Apple, and individuals like Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) among others have spent hundreds of millions of dollars into genetic reprogramming of aging processes and into stem cell and regenerative therapies. Since the most potential lies in the therapy of the diseases that kill most human beings, i.e., cardiovascular diseases, the focus should be on regeneration of heart and blood vessels cells. The challenge has been and still is that there is a discrepancy between basic researchers (laboratory PhDs who work with cell cultures or animal models) and practicing physicians in clinical practice who treat patients, the industry – especially the Silicon Valley industry – is challenged to bring those two groups together to close the gap between bench (research) and bedside (therapy). I have done this in the past in a smaller scheme, and I am more than happy to do this with my team in much a larger scale.
Where do you see stem cells being used in the future? What research is most exciting in this area?
We see enormous potential in the treatment of congestive heart failure, chronic neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease and also in diabetes, where we now can create stem cell-induced pancreatic cells that are able to produce insulin to fight diabetes and its deadly consequences.
Why is there a miscommunication for the public about stem cell therapy? Can you identify the chief challenges and what the solutions might be?
The main misconception among the public is that a single stem cell injection can cure a disease. So far, stem cells have never shown to be able to cure any disease (with the exception of certain cancers using stem cell transplantation). But on the other hand, every single published study has sown benefits of stem cell therapies. The main challenge is that we do not have answers to all the questions and much more research is required. The main task is to conduct more controlled studies to evaluate the benefits of stem cell therapy.
What are the three items you want the public to understand most about your book and cell therapies?
1. Stem cells provide the source for the fountain of youth.
2. Stem cell therapy is the future of medicine for many acute illnesses as well as chronic degenerative diseases.
3. Don’t believe in pure advertising or marketing efforts alone, evaluate the scientific backgrounds and reputation, and read the book.
To purchase the book: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-World-Stem-Cell-Therapy/dp/1631957074/ref=sr_1_1?crid=8H6CV3S0BS7G&keywords=The+secret+world+of+stem+cell+therapy&qid=1651007086&sprefix=the+secret+world+of+stem+cell+therapy+%2Caps%2C867&sr=8-1