Stem cell therapy is a therapy that can provide regenerative and healing benefits for the body. While it used to be quite difficult to access, stem cell therapy is now more widely available and is FDA-approved in injectable form.
Stem cells are naïve, undifferentiated cells that have two primary properties:-
- They have the ability to divide indefinitely.
- They can differentiate into any cell type in our body, and can integrate into target tissue, whether it is damaged or not.
We produce stem cells all throughout our lives, however as we age the quality and quantity of those stem cells declines. Auto-immune disease also reduces our stem cells’ potency and effectiveness. Stem cell therapy is showing great promise in being able to help in healing and regenerating damaged cells and tissues.
How do they work?
Stem cells work via a number of mechanisms.
Stem cells in the body are able to differentiate into a range of different cells. Where in an adult, a muscle cell is always going to be a muscle cell, it will not turn into a nerve cell, stem cells are as yet undifferentiated, and have the ability to develop into whatever cells are most needed by the body to reach its highest level of functioning.
Stem cells have a property called homing which allows cells to migrate from a remote area to areas of tissue damage, or damaged organs in the body. Therefore, when stem cells are introduced into the body, they will find the organs and systems in the body that most need repair and migrate to those.
Damaged cells and tissues secrete chemical signals into the space around them, and the stem cells are attracted to those signals.
Stem cells regulate the immune system being increasing the response of regulatory T-cells and decreasing pro-inflammatory mediators such as TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma. Research demonstrates that stem cells also have an antimicrobial effect in the body, helping to eradicate certain infections.
They can balance Th1/Th2 helper cells. Auto-immune issues and chronic infectious diseases tend to be Th1 dominant (pro-inflammatory).
Stem cells also release growth factors, proteins, chemokines and cytokines to affect neighboring cells. Growth factors such as VEGF helps formation of new blood vessels, activation of one’s own stem cells, modulation of the immune system, and healthy growth of cells and tissues. Some examples of growth factors include –
- VEGF – stimulates angiogenesis – improves vasculature and blood flow.
- Immune cells – modulate and balance immune function.
- Stem cell factor – directs stem cells to where they are most needed; mediates proliferation of stem cells.
- Endothelial progenitor cells – helps to regenerate endothelial lining of blood vessels.
- Fibroblasts – promotes structural framework for tissue.
- Nerve growth factor – stimulates and regenerates neurons, aids in nerve cell proliferation and repair; vital for survival of neurons.
There are different types of stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) give rise to all components of the blood. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) give rise to a multitude of cell types including fat, bone, cartilage, muscle and nerve cells. These are the ones that are most desirable because of their diversity.
What are the potential benefits of stem cells?
There are many benefits of stem cells. In a broad sense, stem cells aid in the regeneration and repair of the recipient.
- Stem cells can regenerate damaged or injured tissues.
- Stem cells can modulate immune response, calming auto-immune processes, and balancing Th1/ Th2 dominance.
- Stem cells reduce inflammation within the body.
- Stem cells reduce cell death due to trauma, hypoxia, chemicals/toxicity, mechanical damage or radiation.
- Stem cells have anti-microbial effects including anti-bacterial and anti-protozoal.
Where do stem cells come from?
Stem cells can be drawn from a number of different sources.
Many clinics use stem cells taken from the patient themselves – either from their bone marrow or their adipose tissue. However, these methods have disadvantages including:-
- Need for a surgical procedure to extract the cells, which can be painful and invasive.
- Stem cells from a person with a chronic illness may be less beneficial that those of a healthy individual.
- Numbers of stem cells produced decline with age, therefore the yield and dose administered to the patient may be less.
Other stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord blood of healthy newborns born of healthy mothers. These stem cells contain the highest numbers and activity; and the greatest amount of growth factors.
Administering these stem cells is also simple and non-invasive, with no liposuction or bone marrow aspiration needed, and the youngest, healthiest and most proliferative stem cells are given.
How are the cells prepared?
Stem cells come from mothers and babies that have been screened for health issues by a tissue bank, including for infectious diseases. They are shipped on dry ice and are administered to the patient on the day they arrive.
Stem cells do not express histocompatibility complex class I or II antigens, meaning they will not activate a T-cell response and cause tissue rejection problems.
How are they administered?
Stem cells are administered by a simple injection. It is possible, and actually desirable, to do either an ozone therapy session, or a Myer’s cocktail with Glutathione, at the time of the stem cell injection.
What do people feel afterwards?
People with significant immune challenges, as well as auto-immune issues, may feel flu-like symptoms for a few days following the infusion.
Are there any contraindications or side effects?
People who have received an organ transplant are not eligible for stem cell therapy.
Sulfa drug allergy or sensitivity is a caution, not a complete contraindication. This is because the carrier substance for the stem cells contains DMSO, which is a sulfur-containing compound.
I believe that stem cell therapy holds tremendous promise for helping to heal and regenerate cells and tissues. We are running a pilot program in our practice currently for our first stem cell patients, and so far the results have been positive.