There are a few ways you could look at this topic. The first is what are the sources that have been used in research studies. The second is according to function. The third way to look at it is via species.
Five Main Sources of Stem Cells Used in Research Studies
Embryonic stem cells
There’s a lot of controversy about these stem cells because they lead to the formation of a whole baby.
Embryonic stem cells are called non-autologous because they come from a source outside yourself – from an embryo that was not you. Autologous cells outperform getting someone else’s cells in your body, the stem cell experts say. However, they don’t know why yet.
Stem cells may be called pluripotent or multipotent. Pluripotent leads to the formation of a whole organism like a baby. Multipotent means the stem cells can only form tissues, not a whole baby.
The application of this concept is that if there’s damage in your knee, you don’t need a baby in there – just new tissues! With all the new stem cell advancements, embryonic stem cells don’t have to ever be used.
Fetal stem cells
This type of stem cell is another one that causes a lot of controversy simply because a life has to be taken to obtain them.
Adult tissue-derived stem cells
Adult tissue-derived stem cells are exactly what they state they are. They are from just about every tissue in the body – even menstrual blood (These stem cells can form 9 different types of tissues), teeth, foreskin, fat, bone marrow, hair follicles, skin and more we don’t know about yet!
There is no controversy about any of these stem cells.
Fat tissue – One of the Best Adult Stem Cell Sources
Adipose tissue samples also contain low numbers of white blood cells (WBC), and the most active white blood cell is the T regulatory cell. For example, in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the T regulatory cell becomes activated and attacks the joints. Just after the activation of the T cells begins, the mesenchymal stem cell steps in and prevents these joint attack from happening.
Obtaining adipose stem cells is a simple procedure. Typically there’s no shortage of fat cells in the body! The downside is that the best time to do this procedure is the first time. It becomes more difficult during the second time because scar tissue will form the second time around.
“Fat is a protected source,” Riordan states, “and you can get cells that haven’t been subjected to aging such as what happens in the bone marrow.”
Local anesthesia is used. Even with a small 15 cc sample, fat can be harvested and you still get a high number of cells. The outpatient procedure takes about 30 minutes.
There’s a difference in autologous adipose tissue samples from different patients. It the patients were eating a healthy diet, their fat is very hearty and almost sticky and can grow stem cells faster than those who ate a poor diet. These patients will have fluffy fat and the cells are not as good quality. Autologous adipose tissue stem cells of smokers are gray colored and don’t grow fast at all.
Cord / Placental stem cells (considered post natal)
These stem cells are taken after giving birth – with the woman’s permission. Permission is asked around month 7 of gestation and then again right before birth. Her blood is tested to make sure she does not have HIV, hepatitis or other transmissible viruses. Since no life was taken to get these stem cells, the umbilical and placental stem cells are not controversial.
Amniotic/cord blood and placental products must be prepared at FDA-registered tissue banks and are snap frozen or micellized to break the cell membrane. The cells aren’t alive. The breaking of the cell membrane releases the growth factors in them. These products are good for immunomodulation in the body but differ in their results from fat tissue or bone marrow.
Some facilities outside the U.S. use culture-expanded amniotic products, which may have living cells.
Cord blood does not contain embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are only from the inner cell mass that grows cells in cultures or leads to the formation of a baby.
Cord blood stem cells have higher levels of ATP than stem cells found in that of a 40-year-old. They replicate better. They have lower levels of annexin, the ‘death’ signal. They have lower levels of free radicals and they have lower levels of IL6, which is associated with inflammation in the body.
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS)
These are cells that are created in the laboratory. Their origin is skin cells and other tissue-specific cells, which are cells that may be reversed back to the embryonic stem cell phase.
The goal of using these IPS is to avoid rejection so cells are first harvested from adult tissue. Then they are coaxed to grow into the certain lines of cells that are needed in the body for the patient. The coaxing agents may be chemicals, light, steroids or other agents.
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Stem Cell Sources May Be Thought of in Terms of Function
You can also think of stem cells in a way that accounts for function in the body. In this regard, you will have stem cells that form blood cells and stem cells that repair tissues.
The blood forming stem cells are called hematopoietic (hee-mat-oh-poy-ett-ick) and these are made in the bone marrow. Specifically the CD34 hematopoietic stem cells make all types of blood cells.
The reason why kidney disease patients have problems with anemia is that their bone marrow is not producing any new stem cells because of the lack of input from the kidney that is failing.
The tissue repair stem cells are called mesenchymal (mezz-enn-kime-el) stem cells or MSCs. Their purpose is to reduce inflammation in the body, modulate the immune system, reside in areas where there has been damage such as in the heart after a heart attack or in the skin after you get a cut. The MSCs make repair and regeneration factors and take care of damage in the body.
MSCs according to Neil Riordan, stem cell scientist, are the most potent anti-inflammatory factor ever discovered. They act as commanders in the body, calling all stem cells, growth factors and all healing resources to an area to be healed. MSCs secrete cytokines that can actually do a lot of repair in the body, especially in the heart as well as in the spinal cord.
Mesenchymal stem cells are found in every tissue and around every blood vessel. Many MSCs are sequestered into fat as we age. When you compare fat tissue to bone marrow, you would choose fat tissue over bone marrow if you want a higher amount of mesenchymal stem cells. There are 500 times more mesenchymal stem cells in fat tissue compared to bone marrow. They’re also found in placental tissues.
Yet, when you age, your levels of mesenchymal cells decline. Take a look at the chart below to see how many mesenchymal cells you have as you age, based on the bone marrow cells, which are more easily depleted than those in fat cells:
Age Number of MSCs in Sample
Newborn 1 in 10,000 cells
Teenager 1 in 100,000 cells
30-year-old 1 in 250,000 cells
50-year-old 1 in 400,000 cells
80-year-old 1 in 2 million cells
Stem cell numbers can be increased with natural substances, according to Neil Riordan, when the supplement ingredients are fermented with the yeast that makes sourdough bread rise. The fermentation process increases the stem cell production five times according to the scientific study that proves his claim. His product, by the way is called Stem-Kine. (Journal of Translational Medicine, April 2010)
Bone Marrow stem cells have been used since the 1930s. The bone marrow sample contains low amounts of mesenchymal stem cells but high amounts of white blood cells, which cause inflammation. When they are injected into a joint, more inflammation will occur from white blood cells. That’s when the MSCs have to come into the area and quiet down the WBC.
Taking a bone marrow stem cell does have a downside. It’s very painful because you can’t anesthetize the bone. Another disadvantage is that once you deplete the bone marrow, the body can’t really recover as fast. This is often the cause of people dying from chemotherapy/radiation who have had their body’s bone marrow sources depleted by the medical treatment.
What About Platelet Rich Plasma?
PRP platelets are more concentrated than what’s found in normal blood. They contain many growth factors. PRP may be used in a joint but you have to remember that platelets work best in areas where stem cells are in higher concentrations, such as in an acute injury. When there are chronic issues going on, such as in arthritis, the joint is not a rich source of stem cells so PRP results won’t be so good there.
In the latter part of the 20th century, animal sources of stem cells were used quite exclusively – long before bone marrow transplants were started. The only types of animals used were sheep and deer. These did not cause any types of allergic response in the body. The stem cells were harvested only from the placental tissues.
Historically, the placental tissues were taken from animals in Europe but after mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease and scrapie were discovered in Europe, companies switched their sources to New Zealand where these diseases don’t exist.
Placental tissues from humans were also harvested. Again, these must be tested to be free from HIV and other viral infections.