Once you understand what stem cells are and what they do, it’s much easier to understand why people with chronic back and knee pain, diabetes and diabetic neuropathy, arthritis and those undergoing chemotherapy treatment are increasingly choosing the non-surgical treatment option of stem cell therapy over invasive surgical options and/or the side effects of pain and other medications to treat ailments.
The ultimate goal of many stem cell clinical trials is the reduction of inflammation and pain caused by lots of injuries and illnesses. Addiction is a good example where inflammation isn’t widely known by the general public as a key driver. In addicts, a section of the brain is inflamed, requiring more and more of their drug of choice to temporarily numb pain. By reducing the inflammation while also treating any physical, psychological or emotional pain, researchers are finding that they can radically reduce addiction symptoms, relieving the addict’s need to self-medicate while also healing the brain.
Stem cell therapy is sometimes confused with platelet rich plasma (PRP). PRP treatments use the patient’s own blood, spun in a centrifuge so that the platelets are separated and reinjected in a solution back into the patient’s body. Platelets are the initial emergency medicine response to illness or injury, so PRP is used to treat acute injuries, such as a torn muscle or badly sprained ankle, where there is the need for a rapid response.
Stem cell therapy is used when the injury or illness is chronic, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases such as diabetes, COPD and chronic joint pain, because the treatment process is longer and the depth of treatment needed is deeper.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the construction workers of life. Each stem cell is programmed with a specific construction specialty, such as building organs, skin, bones and other tissues.
Once an egg is fertilized, stem cells rapidly multiply and focus on their job specialty, growing that egg into a life, including a human fetus.
Not only do they typically have a specialization, but they also have an internal clock that tells them when to multiply, at what rate to multiply and when their specialized task needs to be completed, just as construction workers who are building a tall building. In building construction, plumbing can’t be built into the structure until the skeleton of the building is in place. And, plumbing fixtures aren’t added to kitchens and bathrooms until after the central plumbing infrastructure is completed. It is exactly the same with each of us being “built” in an order that ensures that each part of us is created at the right time and built fully functional.
Going deeper, stem cells can also act like a handyman, making simple or complex repairs after we (or the tall building) are completed. This is the truth and the promise of stem cell therapy- that trained stem cells can and do repair damaged or diseased cells, organs and more in our bodies, on demand.
At birth, with our rapid development from fetus to infant to toddler to child, stem cells are young, healthy and very abundant. There is a lot of construction and handyman work going on, so large pools of stem cells are rapidly supporting our growth and development.
As we age, stem cells have radically reduced numbers and their maturity means that they generally can’t be taught to do anything new, also known as differentiation.
What are the Different Types of Stem Cells?
There are 3 commonly recognized stem cell types. They are embryonic, adult and induced-pluripotent stem cells. Let’s look at each one and how it can help you.
Embryonic Stem Cells
When an egg is fertilized, stem cells are the first cells created. Initially, each cell is immature and doesn’t yet know what it is supposed to do. As they begin to mature, their function and schedule become clear and they either immediately go to work or lie dormant until it’s their time.
During the entire development process, stem cells are dividing, doubling themselves at an amazing rate.
Embryonic stem cells are most often harvested from eggs that have been donated by women and fertilized in a laboratory.
Adult Stem Cells
There are 3 types of adult stem cells, hematopoietic, mesenchymal and fetal stem cells. All adult stem cells are also known as progenitor cells, because they are more mature and are already programmed for a specific function and, unfortunately, are not able to duplicate or regenerate.
Hematopoietic stem cells are the cells that form our blood and our immune system. These cells, found in our bone marrow and in the umbilical cord blood of fetuses, were the original stem cell therapy workers and are commonly used to speed recovery from chemotherapy and other diseases or treatments that are especially tough on the blood stream and bone marrow.
Mesenchymal stem cells are found in fatty tissues, organs and in bone marrow. These stem cells form connective tissues and are commonly used to reduce and/or eliminate inflammation. When mesenchymal stem cells are found in an organ, they typically are specialized to the development and care of that organ. These cells are also known as adipose tissue stem cells or just adipose stem cells.
Fetal stem cells are more specialized than even just a few short weeks earlier when the egg was fertilized. They may have a small optional set of functions that they can perform, unlike the wide open embryonic stem cells, but they are already fixed into an area of specialization.
Induced-Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS)
Induced pluripotent stem cells are adult cells that have been reprogrammed in a laboratory to function more like embryonic cells. The big difference between embryonic stem cells and IPS cells is that IPS cells are replicated in a laboratory.
Where Do Stem Cells Come From?
Stem cells come from several sources, including donated and fertilized eggs, your own body and laboratories.
It is becoming increasingly rare to harvest stem cells from the patient’s own body. The reason is simple math. As we age, we have less and less stem cells, making it harder to harvest enough cells for any meaningful treatment. However, as outlined in this article from biofunctionalmedicine.com, when stem cells are harvested from the patient, the process includes extracting fat tissue from the patient, then harvesting the stem cells from that fat tissue. The tissue is extracted under general or local anesthesia.
The other and more common option is that stem cells are harvested from fertilized eggs. These eggs are either donated by women specifically for stem cell therapy or donated indirectly from in-vitro fertilization clinics with consent from the woman.
The problem with harvesting from fertilized eggs is also a problem of math. With so many people turning to stem cell therapies, there simply aren’t enough fertilized eggs to produce the needed stem cells. Further, many, many universities and medical facilities are conducting clinical trials where actual stem cells are needed, further straining the need for cells and increasing the shortage.
Simply put, there are just aren’t enough embryos to go around.
However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Medical professionals have figured out how to take a few stem cells and replicate them into millions more in specialized laboratories. These stem cell “factories” can and do produce the numbers of stem cells needed for clinical trials and for patient treatments.
And, as the number of stem cell clinics continues to grow, science is meeting the need by not only producing enough base stem cells, but by also “teaching” early life stem cells to handle specific tasks, aiming the lab-created stem cell populations where they are most needed.
Researchers are also performing clinical trials to see if they can find other mechanisms for rapidly producing healthy stem cells because the list of medical conditions that can be helped with stem cell transplantation is only growing with research and time.
What are the Common Stem Cell Therapies?
There are several illnesses and injuries where stem cell therapy can help you avoid invasive surgical procedures and reduce and eliminate pain without medications.
Stem Cell Therapy for Diabetes
Diabetics are often plagued by peripheral neuropathy. This nerve damage is frequently caused by long-term reduction in blood flow, especially in your legs, causing tingling, numbness and pain. And, without reversing the blood flow reduction, the end game is limb amputation. Stem cells are used to improve blood flow and strengthen blood vessels.
Stem Cell Therapy for Arthritis
Arthritis sufferers feel pain in specific joints due to a loss of the synovial fluid and cartilage between bones and weakness in the supporting structures, including muscles and ligaments that keep bones in place and working correctly.
Stem cell therapy is used to strengthen supporting structures using your body’s own healing mechanism, triggered at an accelerated rate by the introduction of millions of young, heathy and vibrant stem cells.
Stem Cell Therapy for Pain
If you suffer from chronic back or joint pain, you already know all too well that there are few treatment options, including anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and/or surgery. The source of chronic pain is always the same- inflammation that presses on nerves.
Stem cells are injected directly into the area of pain or nearby, reducing the inflammation and therefore reducing or eliminating the pain.
Professional athletes, including Jack Nicklaus, have undergone stem cell treatment for chronic pain and have experienced long-term or permanent pain relief from the procedure while also avoiding surgery or even addiction to pain medications.
What is the Stem Cell Therapy Treatment Process?
Following an understanding of your complete medical history, a treatment plan including all of your treatment options is built specifically for you and your medical problem. This treatment plan will typically include injections over a period of weeks or months.
Most patients start feeling relief within 24-48 hours and the relief deepens with time.
Each injection will be rich with millions of stem cells that are healthy and ready to work. In some cases, the injections are aimed at the bone marrow, which is the epicenter for healing chronic joint pain and inflammation. In other cases, stem cells might be injected directly into a particular place, such as an organ.
Once injected, the stem cells get to work. The continued injections are scheduled so as to allow each group of stem cells to begin the healing process while also boosting that process with more new cells.
During and after the treatment plan, you will be monitored for overall health and for the reduction or elimination of the symptoms you are experiencing.
So, if you have chronic joint pain, we will be monitoring you for relief of not only the pain symptoms, but also for your ability to reduce and ultimately eliminate anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications.
In the case of neuropathy, especially in diabetics, we will be monitoring and measuring for increasing blood flows, especially in your extremities with the goal being saving your extremities from further decay and/or amputation.
In the case of patients undergoing chemotherapy, the goal of the stem cell transplant is to boost your recovery time and white blood cell count, which boosts your immune system and reduces the likelihood of viral infections or necessary isolation because of your suppressed immune system. We would also expect that you will feel more energetic and this reduction in fatigue would allow you to be more active between chemotherapy treatments, also improving your recovery during and after cancer treatment.
Does Stem Cell Therapy Have Any Side Effects?
There typically aren’t any side effects from stem cell therapy, beyond the possibility that the injection site may become irritated or inflamed, but we are committed to ensuring that proper sterile processes are used throughout your stem cell therapy treatment.
How Do I Get Started With Stem Cell Therapy?
The first step in getting started is to schedule a meeting with our team. In this first meeting, we’ll review your medical history and also take typical baseline medical measurements, such as your blood pressure. We’ll also review what specific illness or injury you are looking to treat, your treatment history prior to the assessment appointment and then be able to build your personalized treatment plan as well as reviewing costs and payment options including insurance coverage or reimbursement based on your medical insurance provider.
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