Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to self-replicate and some may change into any specific cell type in the body. These cells can be injected directly into an area of injury or given intravenously. Stem cells have a “homing” ability to go to areas of injury due to signals released by injured cells. Once stem cells reach the target tissue they begin repair of the injury or disease by releasing growth factors and immune modulators that assist in the body’s natural repair process.

Stem cells also contain factors that control the immune response, either regulating an overactive immune system or stimulating a weak immune system. These immune factors may also lower inflammation.

There are thousands of peer-reviewed publications showing successful use of stem cells.

Stem Cell Treatments

Stem cells can be used to treat:

  1. Arthritis
  2. Injuries of muscle and ligaments
  3. Chronic pain
  4. Spinal cord injuries
  5. Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc
  6. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc
  7. Diabetes
  8. Heart disease
  9. Cosmetic and Aesthetic procedures

Types of Stem Cells

Stem cells form the base for all types of tissue in the body. They are formed in different parts of the body and at different times during the lifespan. Stem cells exist in all body tissue types, serving to replace and regenerate damaged or dying cells from that tissue type.

Embryonic stem cells are derived from the fertilized egg that is only a few days old. These cells are “pluripotent” meaning they can differentiate into any adult tissue type. Tissue-specific stem cells, known as adult stem cells or somatic stem cells are derived from the adult body and can only differentiate into the type of tissue they are taken from. Induced-pluripotent cells are tissue-specific stem cells that have been engineered in the lab to behave like embryonic stem cells.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are derived from the connective tissue that surrounds other tissues and organs. They are obtained from bone marrow, fat, and umbilical cord blood obtained at birth. These cells are “multipotent” meaning they can differentiate into a few specific tissue types, namely bone, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscle and fat.

Our Stem Cell Sources

We obtain MSC from several companies which distribute these products to physicians for use in regenerative medicine therapies. The stem cells are delivered cryopreserved on dry ice and are strictly compliant with FDA standards under Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations.

Umbilical cord donation is guided by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) for quality, safety and ethics. The cells are sourced from the umbilical cord of healthy donor volunteers painlessly and non-invasively. Each donor is carefully screened for pathogens in order to assure the product is safe.

Stem cells are ordered for specific patients and shipped in a cryogenic state. The cells are used immediately upon arrival to the clinic, either by direct injection, intranasal instillation or through an intravenous infusion

Important Notes about Stem Cell Treatments

Because stem cells that are specific to certain tissues cannot make cells found in other tissues without careful manipulation in the lab, it is uncertain if the same stem cell treatment will work for diseases affecting different tissues and organs within the body.

The list of diseases for which stem cell treatments have FDA approval is short. The best-defined and most extensively used stem cell treatment is bone marrow transplantation for certain blood and immune system disorders or to rebuild the blood system after certain cancer treatments. Some bone, skin and eye injuries and diseases can be treated by grafting or implanting tissues, and the healing process relies on stem cells within this implanted tissue. These procedures are widely accepted as safe and effective by the medical community. All other applications of stem cells are yet to be proven in clinical trials and should be considered experimental.

Potential/theoretical risks (i.e. risks observed in animal studies) include tumor formation, unwanted immune responses, worsening of your condition, new conditions as a result of the stem cells, stem cells differentiating into unwanted tissue or causing existing cells to change their behavior.

The risk of donor-to-recipient transmission of bacterial, viral, fungal or prion pathogens may lead to life-threatening and even fatal reactions. The immune suppressing nature of MSC may allow a dormant infection already in the body to become active, e.g. a flare of herpes virus, etc.

MSC have been used extensively in clinics for decades. The clinical experience with these therapies indicates that i.v. administration of MSC did not reveal major health concerns, and is generally not accompanied by tumor formation. However, limitations of the safety database (i.e. number of patients treated) and lack of long-term follow-up required to study potentially rare adverse events should be taken into account when evaluating the tumorigenic potential of MSC.

The vast majority of small-sized clinical trials conducted with MSC in regenerative medicine applications have not reported major health concerns, suggesting that MSC therapies may be relatively safe.

Resources

Patient Handout on Stem Cell Therapies, by the International Society for Stem Cell Research

Risk Factors in the Development of Stem Cell Therapy

FDA Warns about Stem Cell Therapies

Top take-homes from new FDA NEJM stem cell piece including surprises