A Crash Course Introduction to Stem Cell Therapy Basics
Thanks to the internet and Google searches people are getting more informed than ever about their health. Although there is a bit of a struggle to find reliable information, patients everywhere are easing their fears and getting educated about their bodies and health conditions by reading through the tons of information available online. Ten years ago, a search for stem cell information returned countless articles about ethics and legislation and maybe a few highly technical medical journals about stem cell usage in clinical trials and leukemia treatments. As stem cells and stem cell therapy becomes more accessible, the amount of information you can find online about these advanced medical treatments has increased ten times over. This crash course introduction to stem cell therapy basics is here to help you along your journey to becoming more informed about stem cell therapy and your options for medical treatment with all of the information to get you started in one place.
The Basic Buidling Blocks of Stem Cells
Building Block #1: What are stem cells?
Stem cells are a type of undifferentiated class of cells in your body that have raw potential to differentiate into different cell types. When a baby is conceived, the embryo contains totipotent stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into all of the cell types needed to develop into a human body. The totipotent stem cells, stem cells with unlimited potential, split and differentiate until they form pluripotent cells which are more limited. These pluripotent stem cells differentiate as well but into more specific types of cells. Later in the process when the baby is born, the umbilical cord connecting mom and baby contain multipotent stem cells that can differentiate the same as pluripotent and totipotent cells but only into even more specific cell types.
We’ll get into the ethics of where stem cells originate more in a moment, but the popular myth that stem cells only originate from embryos is part of the reason why it’s taken so long for the power of stem cell therapy to be accessible for more patients who could benefit from the procedure. The cells in our bodies are constantly dying and regenerating, for instance, every day dead skin cells are sloughed off of us onto our clothing and bedding only to be replaced by newly regenerated skin cells underneath. This is the same process that helps us heal after a cut or a scrape. Our body’s immune system works with stored undifferentiated stem cells called adult stem cells, to replace and repair skin and tissue cells to patch the damage. These cells divide and differentiate indefinitely, but as we grow older, the power and potential of adult stem cells begins to decrease.
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Buidling Block #2: Where do stem cells for stem cell therapy come from?
This is a great question and probably one of the most important questions for patients considering stem cell therapy with ethical concerns. Currently, the use of embryonic stem cells in research studies is being sparingly granted, but the ongoing ethical battle over the use of embryos for these types of treatments rages on. There have been some FDA approvals for the use of embryonic stem cells in studies that focus on reversing vision impairment and chronic
diseases like MS over the years, but wide spread use of embryonic stem cells has yet to be approached.
Cord blood and cord tissue stem cell use has risen in popularity. The multipotent stem cells found in cord blood and cord tissue don’t have the universal differentiation potential as embryonic stem cells, but these cells are highly effective in treating a large number of conditions with none of the ethical issues that embryonic stem cells present. Cord blood and
cord tissue samples are taken with the permission of the parents and donated. This harvesting process poses no risk to the mother or baby and is done in a swift and safe procedure immediately after birth.
Adult stem cell therapy procedures are some of the most popular currently because most adult stem cell therapy procedures require no outside donor. Doctors can harvest your stored adult stem cells, concentrate and redistribute them to the area of your body where you need them the most. The adult stem cells used for this therapy are usually harvested from your bone marrow in your hip, fat tissue from your abdomen or your blood.
Building Block #3: What can stem cell therapy be used for?
If you look up some of the clinical trials and research studies using stem cells today you’ll be amazed at the medical advancements being made with these microscopic medical powerhouses. Stem cells are being used to restore the spines of paralyzed patients, repairing the effects of COPD, replacing the damaged myelin that causes MS and Parkinson’s disease and repairing neurological cells. As our understanding of stem cell potential grows, researchers and doctors everywhere are pushing the limits on what we previously thought was possible in the areas of healing, treatment, and regeneration.
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Popular orthopedic stem cell treatments have become widely accessible, and many patients are using their own stored adult stem cells to treat joint conditions like osteoarthritis, cartilage degeneration in the spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and feet, ligament and tendon damage and tissue damage. Stem cell therapy and stem cell-based treatments like PRP have become a favorite of professional athletes looking to heal quickly and effectively, and many people are wondering if there is a limit to what stem cells can potentially do.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Stem cell therapy allows doctors to focus the natural healing potential of stem cells on the area where your body needs it the most. The stem cells are injected either directly into the area for things like joint conditions in the knees or shoulder or injected into your bloodstream to treat areas we can’t reach like the lungs for COPD treatment or the spinal cord for MS treatment. When the stem cells or progenitor cells are injected, they immediately begin to signal to the immune system to identify the damaged cells and tissue. These signals to the immune system command a response in the form of growth factors and cytokines that the facilitate the regeneration process and the stem cells begin to differentiate into the damaged cells that need to be replaced.
When used to treat joint conditions and other conditions that cause a malfunction of your immune system inflammatory response, stem cells can help to regulate the inflammation and reduce chronic inflammation as they heal. This anti-inflammatory process helps to reduce chronic pain for patients with joint conditions and slows the cell damage chronic inflammation can cause.
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What Can I Expect During My Stem Cell Therapy Procedure?
Your stem cell therapy procedure experience will be determined by the type of stem cell therapy you receive and the condition you are using stem cells to treat. If your stem cell therapy procedure involves using cord blood or cord tissue stem cells, you will come in for a direct localized injection of stem cells to a specific area or a stem cell therapy procedure
administered intravenously into your bloodstream. For adult stem cell therapy procedures, patients will undergo a harvesting process where stem cells are collected from their body prior to the therapy. Depending on which site your doctor chooses for the best results, your cells can be harvested from your hip in a moderately invasive process using a local anesthetic, from your abdomen area using a liposuction procedure or from a simple draw of your blood. Once the
stem cells are collected and processed, the cells are injected back into your body in the form of a direct localized injection or an IV.
Most stem cell therapies are moderate to minimally invasive, and the benefit to the therapy is a drastically reduced recovery period when compared to alternative treatments for joint and orthopedic conditions like joint replacement surgery. The results of stem cell therapy vary from patient to patient, but most of the response to many of the stem cell therapy treatments has been largely promising with a low threshold for risks and side effects.
How Can I Learn More About Stem Cell Therapy?
Online research is a great way to get you started but don’t stop there. While you’re researching jot down any additional questions, you have or any terms you don’t fully understand and make an appointment with a stem cell therapy specialist. It’s always best to combine your independent research with information from a trained professional and speaking with a doctor is the best way to get information about your specific condition and health needs. When you go in for your appointment bring your notes along to make sure you get all of the information you need to make an informed decision about your treatment plan.
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How Successful is Stem Cell Therapy for Knees?
To answer the question, “How successful is stem cell therapy for knees?” we wanted to look at the multitude of conditions that stem cell treatments are used for treating the knee joint.