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By Jillian Levy, CHHC
March 23, 2018
Clinical research regarding stem cell therapy benefits has grown dramatically in recent decades. The most promising thing about stem cell therapy and similar prolotherapy treatments including PRP is that they offer relief for patients with chronic pain and difficult-to-heal injuries, all without medications or risky reconstructive surgeries. Today researchers are also uncovering ways to apply stem cell treatments for common chronic conditions such as heart disease,neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes.
The most common use of stem cell treatments in prolotherapy is managing pain. Most consider stem cell therapy to be a form of interventional pain-management, meaning its a minimally invasive technique. Treatment involves injecting stem cells (along with an anesthetic and sometimes other substances) around painful and damaged nerves, tendons, joints or muscle tissue.
What specific types of conditions can stem cell therapy help treat? Some of the most common include osteoarthritis knee pain, tennis elbow, shoulder pains or rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis, Achilles tendon injuries and now cardiovascular diseases likeatherosclerosis.
There are now more options available to patients than ever before for various types of prolotherapy treatments, but the type of prolotherapyI recommend the most is the unique approach to stem cell therapy offered by the Regenexxclinic. I have personally visited the Regenexx clinic in the Cayman Islands to receive treatments performed by Dr. Chris Centeno, Dr. John Schultz and Dr. John Pitt for back and tendon injuries. The form of stem cell therapy offered by these doctors is considered to be one of themost thoroughly researched and effective in the world.
Stem cell therapy is a type of treatment option that uses a patients own stem cells to help repair damaged tissue and repair injuries. Its usually performed relatively quickly through injections, and is a simple outpatient or in office procedure.
This type of treatment has also been found to help:
According to the National Institute of Health,
Stem cells are important for living organisms for many reasons. In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lungs, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, discrete populations of adult stem cells generate replacements for other cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease.
The California Stem Cell Agency reports that there is no limit to the types of diseases that could be treated with stem cell research. Because of their amazing abilities to help with regrowth, stem cell therapy treatments are now being used (or continuously researched) in regards to treating:
Stem cells are usually taken from one of two areas in the patients body: bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue in their upper thigh/abdomen. Because its common to remove stem cells from areas of stored body fat, some refer to stem cell therapy as Adipose Stem Cell Therapy in some cases. (1)
Once stem cells from removed from one of these locations, they are placed in a centrifuge machine that spins them very, very quickly and concentrates the substances that are most valuable (including up to seven different types of natural growth factors). The sample of concentrated stem cells is then injected directly into the patients affected, painful area allowing the cells growth factors to go to work immediately, building new skin cells, connective tissue and so on.
What exactly makes stem cells so beneficial and gives stem cell injections the power to do this healing? Stem cells have the following unique characteristics, uses and healing abilities:
The type of stem cells being used in the most cutting-edge orthopedic practices including those offered at the Regenexx clinic mentioned above are called Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). A growing body of research shows that MSCs have the capability of differentiating and forming new orthopedic tissues that make up muscle, bones, cartilage and tendons, ligaments and adipose tissue. (3)
Research suggests that in treating orthopedic problems,fat-derived MSCs tend to under-perform bone marrow derived stem cells, therefore bone derived is the preferred method. (4) This is especially true when bone marrow cells are dramatically concentrated using advanced centrifuge equipment. Certain studies have found that these advanced samples can contain up to 25 different growth factors and other beneficial rebuilding substances.
In studies regarding orthopedic care such as those used for cartilage replacement,bone repairand soft-tissue repair bone marrow stem cells injections have been found to: reduce chronic pain, heal stubborn injuries, improve functionality and return patients to their normal routine sometimes within just one week.
Wondering if MSCs for orthopedic injuries are safe? There is no evidence of overgrowth of MSCs in damaged tissue or reason to believe theres risk for tumor growth. Advanced clinics such as Regenexx actually count cells before injecting them and carefully monitor progress. According to research used by Regenexx, MSCs safely stop proliferating once they physically contact each other, because this signals to them that the affected area has reached its full potential in growth. (5)
Cardiovascular diseases can deprive heart tissue of oxygen and cause scar tissue to form which changes blood flow/blood pressure. Research suggests that stem cells taken from adult bone marrow have the ability to differentiate into those needed to repair the heart and blood vessels, thanks to the secretion of multiple growth factors. Several ways in which stem cell therapy is now being used and further researched in regards to improving recovery of heart disease are:
Although more research is needed to assess the safety and efficacy of this approach, stem cell types used in heart disease treatment include: embryonic stem (ES) cells, cardiac stem cells,myoblasts (muscle stem cells), adult bone marrow-derived cells, umbilical cord blood cells, mesenchymal cells (bone marrow-derived cells) and endothelial progenitor cells (these form the interior lining of blood vessels).
Studies have found that stem cell treatments can help improve the growth of healthy new skin tissue, improve collagen production, stimulate hair growth after loss or incisions, and help replace scar tissue with newly formed healthy tissue.
One of the ways stem cells help facilitate wound healing is by increasingcollagen concentrations in the skin, which shrinks as it matures and thereby strengthens and tightens the damaged area. This same mechanism also applies to treating connective tissue injuries related to collagen/cartilage loss, such as those caused by osteoarthritis or overuses that affect ligaments or tendons.
Recent progress in the treatment of diseases like Parkinsons, Huntingtons, Alzheimers and stroke recovery show that transplanted adult stem cells can be used to form new brain cells, neurons and synapses following cognitive degeneration or brain injuries. (6) Research conducted by the Research Center for Stem Cell Biology and Cell Therapy in Sweden is still underway, but current findings show that stem cells can improve synaptic circuits, optimize functional recovery, offer relief from degeneration symptoms, slow down disease progression and potentially even more.
Some of the ways that stem cell injections/grafts work in neurodegeneration treatment are: normalizing striatal dopamine release, impairing akensia (loss of voluntary movement), replacing neurons destroyed by the ischemic lesions following strokes and halting destruction of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons.
Immune rejection is the term used to describe damage to healthy tissue and cells in patients with autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory conditions. In people who suffer from type1 diabetes, for example, the cells of the pancreas that normally produce insulin are destroyed by the patients own immune system; in people with thyroid disorders, the thyroid gland is attacked and damaged.
Research continues to show us that certain adult stem cells are capable of differentiating and producing needed cells, such as insulin-producing cells that eventually could be used in with people diabetes. This strategy is still being researched extensively and is not yet widely available, as scientists continue to experiment with reliable strategies for generating new cells/tissues that will not be rejected or harm the patient once implanted.
Meanwhile, a promising clinical trial led by Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern University that explores the potential benefits of stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis is underway as of March 2018. The 110 patients participating either received a drug treatment or hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).The clinical trial looks promising given that after one year of treatment only one relapse occurred among patients in the stem cell group compared with 39 relapses in the drug treatment. And, after about three years, the stem cell transplants had a 6 percent failure rate compared with a failure rate of 60 percent in the control (drug treatment) group.
The researchers note that stem cell therapy doesnt work for all cases of MS and its not an easy process. First patients must undergo chemotherapy to destroy their faulty immune system. Then stem cells that help make blood through a process called hematopoiesis are removed from the patients bone marrow and reinfused into the patients bloodstream. These fresh stem cells, which are not affected by MS, rebuild the patients immune system. Despite this challenging process, preliminary results demonstrate that this could be an effective treatment in the future. (7, 8)
For decades researchers and doctors primarily used two kinds of stem cells taken from animals and humans, especially when they were still embryos (not yet born). These are calledembryonic stem cells and non-embryonic (somatic or adult) stem cells. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that stem cells could be taken from human embryos and grown inside of laboratoriesfor reproductive purposes, including for in vitro fertilization.
Then in 2006 a breakthrough discovery was made that some specialized adult stem cells could be reprogrammed and used in many other ways to help repair damaged tissue. These are referred to as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and are the type used in many of the treatments described above.There remains a lot to learn about the potential uses of stem cell therapies, and how scientists can continue to explore transforming unspecialized adult stem cells into the types of specialized cells needed.
The NIH reports that in future years some of the primary goals of stem cell therapy research are to: identify howundifferentiated stem cells become the differentiated cells that form the tissues and organs, determine how stem cells can turn humangenes on and off, learn to predictably control cell proliferation and differentiation, and investigate more uses for stem cells in serious medical conditions such as cancerand birth defects.
The hope going forward is that stem cells can also be used as a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat common and serious diseases without the need for organ transplants or surgeries, including: maculardegeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Cancer treatment is a particular important area under investigation, as early studies are showing that stem cells are safe and well-tolerated in patients with acute and chronic leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other cancers. (9)
Stem cell treatments are offered by various doctors who practice pain-management and other techniques, including orthopedics and anesthesiologists.Depending on the type of treatment needed, its also possible to visit a neurologist, cardiologist, etc.Commonly these treatments are offered at clinics with ateam of doctors who work together to specialize in diagnosing, preventing and/or correcting a range of musculoskeletal, neurological or connective tissue disorders/injuries.
If youre planning on visiting a doctor for pain management, look for a physician who has board certification through an organization like the American Board of Anesthesiology orAmerican Board of Pain Medicine. I recommend viewing this Physician Finder tool to locate a practitioner who performs the advanced type of stem cell applications described above.
Personally, I most suggest checking out Regenexx, one of the only organizations to run large-scale analysis of patient stem cell procedure outcome data. It has published numerous findings from tracking their own patients on their website. Much more detailed information on improvements that can be expected following PRP procedures including those for knee meniscus, arthritis, hip dysfunction, knee pain, wrist/hand injuries, ankle/foot pain and shoulder/rotator injuries can be accessed through Regenexx directly.
Once you find a qualified physician, heres a brief overview of what you can expect from stem cell therapy treatments:
Although stem cell treatment is considered to be very safe, there are also side effects that are possible. Make sure to find a qualified practitioner and let them know if your experience following a treatment does not sound like the typical one described above.Like other types of non-invasive treatments and prolotherapy techniques, some mild side effects after injections are normal. Side effects of stem cell treatments can sometimes include:
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