Oregonians are curious, if not downright excited about stem cell therapy. And, we should be. It’s likely that the continued development of stem cell therapies to control or eliminate pain, to treat diabetic neuropathy, to abate addiction and more will ultimately be the defining medical advancement of our generation, just as was the polio vaccine and other global medical game changers.
We should also be rightly proud of the work of OHSU’s Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who is committed to moving stem cell and other genetic therapies forward. The CBS television show, 60 Minutes, included Dr. Shoukhrat in their story about stem cell therapy and other genetic treatments.
And, Whitmire Chiropractic and Wellness is Salem, Oregon’s premier stem cell therapy provider, continuing our commitment to healthcare for the best you.
But, what is stem cell therapy? What Are Stem Cells? How does stem cell therapy work? Where do stem cells come from? What’s the science behind stem cell therapy? What are the potential risks and side effects of treatment with stem cells? These and more are all common questions that you might be asking and we’re here to answer them for you.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy is the process over time where new healthy cells, known as stem cells are introduced into our body with a specific goal, such as increasing peripheral blood flow in the legs of a diabetic or reducing plaque buildup in a heart patient.
Stem cells are introduced over a period of weeks, slowly ramping up the body’s ability to heal itself.
These treatments are delivered by injection in our professional office with minimal discomfort and no downtime.
The Mayo Clinic, in this article, does a good job explaining the basics of stem cell therapy, as well as why scientists and doctors are so excited about the current treatments and those that are being researched.
Stem cell therapy is, can and will completely change the way that we deal with injuries and illnesses today and in the future.
For example, stem cell therapy is very common as part of cancer treatment protocols. Stem cells are used during and after chemotherapy to help the patient’s own healing process move faster. This helps the patient’s health and comfort during chemotherapy as well as improving post-treatment recovery.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells, defined simply, are the “mother” cells in our body. They “birth” cells that either produce more stem cells, known as self-renewal, or they produce specialized cells, including heart cells, brain cells, muscle cells and more, known as differentiation.
Even as science is continuing to unlock the secrets of stem cells, we already know that a few mother stem cells produce millions, if not billions of cells that are programmed to do different and often very specific things inside our body.
And, our knowledge of stem cells has already advanced to the point where scientists and doctors are able to reprogram stem cells, in effect changing their purpose, so that they can be aimed with a specific medical treatment outcome.
When a human is developing into a fetus, it is stem cells that are fueling the growth of our bones, our organs, our skin, hair and everything else that makes a human fetus.
At this stage of our lifecycle, stem cells are incredibly plentiful, because there is so much construction going on. If our early developing body was a construction site, stem cells would be the workers scurrying around to build something- the concrete workers, plumbers, electricians, HVAC workers, etc.
As infants, we might have 1 stem cell for every 100,000 cells in our bodies. That might not seem like a lot, but these are very powerful cells with the ability to steer millions of other cells into building our heart, our brain and our body.
But, as we age, the ratio of stem cells reduces quickly. And, the older we get, the longer it takes us to heal from illness or injury, because there are less stem cells to birth new healthy cells.
This doesn’t mean that we have no stem cells, just fewer of them. So, that stubbed toe or flu takes much longer to heal than it did when we were young children because there are less and less stem cells to initiate and maintain our healing processes.
But, with stem cell therapy, high quantity, young and energetic stem cells are introduced into your body, boosting its ability to fight disease by replacing damaged cells with brand new, energetic stem cells and increasing the quantity your body has available. Simply put, stem cells are the accelerators of healing and growth and introducing more, healthy stem cells into our older body gives us the ability to grow and heal as if our body is much younger.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Stem cell therapy is like a microscopic organ transplant. Stem cells are manipulated to a specific bodily function in a laboratory. These specialized stem cells are then injected into the body part or organ where we want them to do what they do.
These specialized cells than trigger the body’s natural healing processes.
As an example, let’s say that you have chronic hip pain. Without stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, your options are ongoing pain medications, including anti-inflammatory medications with their dangerous and addictive side effects or a costly and invasive hip replacement surgery. Neither one is fun. And, hip replacements often have to be redone, so you get to go through the process more than once. They also require an extended recovery time with limited mobility and more medications to reduce the new pain caused by the surgery itself.
With treatments at a stem cell clinic, early life stem cells are injected into the same damaged knee. Because there are so many, they trigger the body’s healing process. Some would call this a reversal of the damage, but it’s actually more like a rebirth of healthy knee cartilage and/or synovial fluid.
And, stem cells are being used to help with liver and kidney failure, addiction and many other health conditions that would otherwise require chronic treatment or medications.
The work with stem cells is still in its earliest stages, so the conditions that can be treated as medical science learns a deeper ability to manipulate stem cells is staggering.
What Is the Science Behind Stem Cell Therapy?
The generation of stem cells in a lab starts with asking what we want particular stem cells to do. If we want to improve blood or blood flow, we need bone marrow stem cells, also known as hematopoietic stem cells. If we want stem cells that impact brain function, then we need brain stem cells.
Science has advanced far enough already with stem cells that major stem cells have been identified and their characteristics inventoried. There’s a host of great stem cell information from the National Institutes of Health.
So, once we know what we want the stem cell therapy to do, it’s simply a matter of “teaching” or tweaking stem cells for that specific bodily function or organ.
Using a donated egg, scientists extract stem cells, then adjust them for the function that we want. They also confirm that there are no abnormalities in the cells. From every donated egg, millions of stem cells are extracted and portioned out to various functions.
These cells are then sent to us mixed in a natural medium. We inject the cells in a series of treatments to trigger your body’s natural healing machine, focusing all of that healing on exactly what and where you need it.
Over the course of your treatments, we are increasing and maintaining your body’s natural ability to heal itself and helping you to avoid expensive and painful surgery and/or medications that do nothing to heal the problem, instead only masking the symptoms.
What’s amazing is that the newly introduced stem cells seem to sense the injured area and rapidly move to it, even though science doesn’t completely understand how or why stem cells have this awareness.
But, scientists are taking stem cell therapy one step further. They are teaching stem cells that already have a defined function to revert back to the state they had when they became a cell in the first place, then reprogrammed to a specific function. The stem cells that are reproduced are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
The greater the scientific research and advancement, the greater the scope of what stem cells can do for us. But, the root is always the same- activate the younger, vibrant version of our own healing process.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates medical treatments and they provide guidelines to practitioners, including Whitmire Chiropractic and Wellness, as to how stem cell treatments should be used and administered.
Where Do Stem Cells Come From?
Stem cells are typically derived from donated eggs that are fertilized in laboratories. Unlike fertilized eggs that produce a baby, these eggs are never implanted in a woman.
Using something called stem cell lines, scientists are able to continuously produce more stem cells from the originals, expanding the availability of stem cells far beyond those available from the donated and fertilized eggs.
There is also continuing research into using adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are problematic, as they may contain deformities. However, research and testing of adult stem cells is continuing at a rapid pace.
Types of Stem Cells
There are 4 major types of stem cells. At a deeper scientific level, there are actually 5, but we’ll focus on the 4 common stem cell types. Let’s look at each one and we have also referenced them throughout this article as to when they are used and why.
Embryonic Stem Cells
These are the most powerful of all stem cell types. These stem cells come from the blastocyst, the center of a fertilized egg. There is a very short window to harvest these stem cells as they take off and start forming a human in less than a week.
They are also the rarest of stem cells as the number is controlled by the number of human eggs donated by women.
Tissue Specific Stem Cells
Tissue specific stem cells are also known as adult stem cells. These stem cells are more developed than the embryonic stem cells and live in the organ or system in which they specialize. So, for example, skin stem cells live in the skin.
They are also difficult to harvest and even harder to replicate, so adult stem cells are mostly used for research into the human body’s responses to aging and/or injuries.
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
These stem cells are harvested from a body organ or system, then reprogrammed back to a state closest to embryonic stem cells.
By cycling stem cells back to their origins, scientists are able to repurpose stem cells to how they are most needed.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells
Science knows very little about mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These cells live in the connective tissues that surround our organs and other body masses. We know that bones have been successfully reproduced using bone marrow MSCs, but we don’t yet know why or how.
It’s most likely that your stem cell treatment will use embryonic stem cells, as they are the most common. This is something that we will review with you at your free consultation.
Isn’t Stem Cell Treatment Very New?
Not at all. Although there were various stem cell treatment tests prior, stem cell therapy became a mainstream medical advancement during the 1970s.
Along the way, scientists and doctors have learned how to successfully harvest donated egg stem cells and how to reprogram them for various functions.
Today, science is pushing stem cell treatments forward faster because of the increasing international concerns about surgery and especially opioid medication abuse and addiction. Stem cells represent a whole host of treatments that are non-invasive (beyond the injections) and that don’t require doses of pain medication or continued use of anti-inflammatory medications.
You can read much more about the medical advancement of stem cell therapies here.
How is Stem Cell Therapy Different from PRP Therapy?
PRP, or Platelet Rich Plasma therapy is different than stem cell therapy. With PRP therapy, your own blood (and cells) are used instead of those from a fertilized human egg.
Human blood is made up of several components, including platelets. These platelets race to the scene of an injury, attracting the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Under normal conditions, less than 10% of your blood is made up of platelets.
With PRP injections, this percentage is increased to 90% or more, so you can understand the platelet healing process happens so much more quickly than under normal conditions.
In our hair loss example, PRP is used to increase blood flow to the scalp and to strengthen the existing hair follicles. The outcome is typically new hair growth combined with healthier existing hair.
PRP is also different in that it is usually used to treat conditions that are either non-life threatening, such as hair loss or would otherwise heal on their own over time, such as a torn rotator cuff or a strained ligament.
Examples of Stem Cell Therapies
Stem Cell Therapy for Pain
You probably already know this, but most of the pain we feel in our body is the result of inflammation. Arthritis, lower back pain, joint pain and even headaches are all, at their roots, caused by tissues getting inflamed.
What helps stem cell therapy to be so effective is the ability for stem cells to know exactly where the inflammation is and to react to it, “knowing” that they can reduce the pain symptoms by reducing the inflammation wherever it exists.
In this case, we aren’t talking about inflammation due to diet problems, as they are often reduced by simple dietary adjustments.
What we are talking about is the pain associated with an acute or chronic injury or illness that causes enough pain to warrant ice, elevation and anti-inflammatory or opioid pain medications. This might be from a trauma that doesn’t heal correctly, as might be the case with a car accident injury. But, it also might be caused by repetitive trauma. An example of this might be the flooring installer who is constantly working on their knees. Knee pads might lessen the trauma of hitting the floor, but they do nothing to protect the knee joint from the repetition that often historically lead to a knee replacement.
However, with stem cell therapy in our clinic, you can bypass the replacement and heal your sore knees using your own healing process, triggered by the introduction of stem cells.
Stem Cells for Diabetes
One of the most exciting breakthroughs for stem cell therapy is in the treatment of diabetes, especially for diabetics who are at high risk for leg amputation due to diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy happens when the diabetic’s body reduces blood flow to the arms and legs because it is using the redirected blood flow to increase the fight against sugar/insulin imbalance. This causes nerve damage that is the core problem in diabetic neuropathy.
By introducing new stem cells into the bone marrow of a diabetic, we expand the body’s ability to maintain good extremity blood flow and to provide the best possible response to the constant sugar and insulin imbalance at the heart of diabetes.
But, neuropathy isn’t limited only to diabetics. People who have or are going through chemotherapy, have some types of spinal cord injuries and others, including surgical amputees, can benefit from stem cell therapy.
And, since neuropathy can also be caused by conditions including chronic alcoholism and even hyperthyroidism, stem cells can be used to improve the patient’s comfort and way of life.
Stem Cells for Arthritis
Arthritis and osteoarthritis are a normal result of the aging process. But, for some people, they are painful and debilitating. Until stem cell therapies were developed, painful arthritis sufferers had to choose between joint replacement, when available and medications to help to reduce the pain.
Arthritis is typically caused by poor ligament health surrounding the joint. Because ligaments aren’t effectively doing their job, bones grind together.
Specialized stem cells are introduced to the body, helping to regenerate, strengthen and nourish new and healthy ligament tissues.
And, because bones are no longer grinding against each other, the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis is reduced or eliminated.
Stem Cells for Cancer
When someone undergoes cancer treatment, chemotherapy is often at the heart of the treatment plan. Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells, hopefully eliminating the possibility that any cancer cell can replicate. But, chemotherapy also kills stem cells, particularly those in the bone marrow.
Stem cell transplantation for cancer patients involves boosting stem cells, post chemotherapy, to speed recovery time from the effects of chemotherapy while also boosting the patient’s own healing process.
Although there have been tests where a cancer patient’s own stem cells, known as autologous stem cells, are harvested from the bone marrow and frozen until they are reintroduced into the patient, these stem cells come with a high risk, because it is simply impossible to eliminate the possibility that cancer cells will also be harvested, essentially reintroducing cancer cells into a patient who is cancer-free after chemotherapy.
Medical research continues, because scientists believe that they could teach stem cells to attack cancer cells, eliminating the need for chemotherapy and its side effects. It’s possible that there is no more exciting outcome from stem cell research than the rapid deployment of stem cells to kill cancer until medical research can eventually find ways to stop cancer before it starts.
Stem Cells for Addiction
For many people, drug and alcohol addiction starts with low dose use and expands to abuse. The ever increasing need for more drugs or alcohol is caused by increased tolerance and an actual increase in the pain that drives the original drug or alcohol use. This is called hyperalgesia.
By introducing healthy stem cells that “find” the brain inflammation, we are able to reduce the inflammation that is driving the dangerous path to increased drug or alcohol use. At the same time, addicts can be monitored for any adverse health effects while titrating away from the drug or alcohol and stem cells can also be used to facilitate healing of any physical problem that created the initial need for drugs and/or alcohol.
This is exciting, since most drug and alcohol treatments include using medications that often have their own addictive properties and/or side effects.
How Effective is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy is highly effective for treating multiple chronic medical conditions. There are a few factors that can affect your outcome, including overall health, diet and exercise and current medication use. We will review your medical history with you at your free consultation and outline your treatment plan options and probable outcomes.
What Are the Potential Risks and Side Effects of Stem Cell Therapy?
Although minimal and infrequent, there are a few potential risks to stem cell therapy.
First, your body may decide to attack the new stem cells, resulting in no desired improvement to the patient. If the stem cells can’t do their job, the job won’t be completed.
Second, it’s possible that you can have a reaction, typically on your skin at the injection site. We reduce this risk by following normal medical processes for injections, including cleaning the injection site, wearing gloves, etc. It’s common that people who have an injection site reaction have had one before. Sometimes, the reaction is to the antiseptic that’s used.
Third, although very rare, there have been a few cases where tumors have formed as a result of stem cell therapies.
And, finally, the stem cells could decide to change their focus to something other than what is intended. We have not seen this and have only rhetorically heard of it, but we feel it better to have you fully informed as a patient. When you come in for your free consultation, we will review any and all risks associated with your specific treatment plan so you are informed and comfortable.
How Much Does Stem Therapy Cost?
Your stem cell treatment cost will be based on a couple factors.
First, the larger the area we are trying to treat, the longer the treatment plan will take, increasing the cost. Additionally, your overall current health, health history and diet can and will affect the cost of your treatments.
Many health insurance providers cover the cost of stem cell therapies, although not all. During your free consultation we will review your insurance and help you to get the therapy that you need.
How Do I Learn More?
Since each patient and situation is unique, the best way to learn more about how stem cell treatment might help you avoid pain, surgery and medications is to schedule a free consultation in our Salem, Oregon office at your earliest convenience.
In this appointment, one of our medical professionals will review your medical history, medications and other factors, as well as outlining your treatment options. There is no obligation, just lots of free information for you.
What is the Future of Stem Cell Therapy?
Now that you understand the basics of stem cell therapy, it’s probably not hard for you to imagine the future possibilities.
We believe that once medical science has unlocked stem cell treatment’s maximum potential for treating acute and chronic injuries and illnesses, such as those we outlined above, the next frontier will be working backwards towards the womb.
With a basic understanding of stem cells, it’s not difficult to see a world where birth defects and early life medical problems, such as heart defects, are corrected using stem cells instead of highly invasive surgeries.
We also believe that science and medicine will dive deeper, specifically into individualized brain functions with the goal of treating and even reversing mental illnesses, including PTSD, depression and more and possibly even improving basic brain functions such as memory and retention. Medical science is already closing in on the sources of age-related mental health problems including dementia, so it’s possible, if not probable, that the introduction of stem cell therapies can help our aging Baby Boomer population to slow the course of age-related mental illness or even reduce the likelihood.
The final frontier for all medicine, including stem cell therapy, will be in prevention. Our ability to use stem cell and other treatments to radically reduce acute and chronic medical problems is the holy grail and stem cell therapy has a big lead on other therapies.
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