Stem Cell Therapy

Over the past two decades, scientists have learned a great deal about the nature and benefits of stem cells. They have been extensively studied and in laboratory conditions have been used to prevent or treat several conditions or diseases. While a large amount of research is still ongoing , stem cell treatments have been approved for use in the general population to treat a number of conditions. This is known as stem cell therapy. The most commonly used form of treatment involving stem cells is bone marrow transplantation. Some other therapies use stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood. Scientists are still conducting research on stem cells to identify different sources for these cells and how they can be implemented to treat neurodegenerative diseases as well as other prevalent conditions such heart disease, diabetes, etc.


The providers of stem cells

In order to treat or cure certain conditions, it might be necessary to use to stem cells. In some cases, your own stem cells can be used, but sometimes a transplant may be required. Stem cell therapy has faced several advancements over the last couple of decades with more and more patients considering this form of treatment as a viable option. So, where do you get stem cells from?


The easiest and most convenient source for stem cells is from your body. Stem cells reside within tissues and can remain dormant for a long period of time until they are activated to repair damaged cells or produce new cells. Adult stem cells can be harvested from your bone marrow, skeletal muscles, blood vessels, teeth, heart, liver, or even your brain. Mesenchymal stem cells can be taken from amniotic fluid and embryonic stem cells are harvested from embryos.


Apart from naturally harvested stem cells, you also have induced pluripotent cells which are adult stem cells that have been reprogrammed to have transformational capabilities that rival natural pluripotent cells. These cells are harvested from adult skin tissue or blood and can be genetically reprogrammed to the become equivalent to embryonic cells. There are several companies or providers that manufacture and culture stem cells under high quality standards. These stem cells can be used to treat various conditions without the need to harvest cell from the patient or locate a donor.


What types of pain can stem cell therapy treat?

A large population of people across the world suffer from chronic pain, recurrent pain or long-lasting pain. The numbers make these conditions and their treatment where stem cell therapy stands to offer a significant immediate impact Providing a vastly improved quality of life for those suffering from such conditions. Generally, there are two types of pain - neuropathic and nociceptive.


Nociceptive pain is caused by an injury, surgery, or lesions applying pressure on your nerves. The intensity of the pain depends on the severity of the injury and is often treatable by opioids. When the injury heals, the pain usually disappears. Neuropathic pain, on the other hand, can be caused by injuries but persist even after the injury has healed. This type of pain does not respond to opioids and can be rather difficult to treat. Conditions like post-herpetic neuralgia and diabetic neuropathy commonly cause neuropathic pain.


The treatment of chronic pain is one of the targets of stem cell therapy, and pre-clinical studies have shown that stem cells have been very effective in treating neuropathic pain. These studies reveal that bone marrow transplant has shown positive results in alleviating musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain. The use of stem cells has given rise to non-invasive therapies that are used to treat back pain, neck pain, and other types of chronic musculoskeletal pain. Patients are now turning to stem cell therapies to avoid invasive surgery to treat degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, muscle tears, tendinitis, torn rotator cuffs, chronic shoulder, neck, and back pain, ankle, elbow, and wrist pain, as well as non-healing fractures.


To treat chronic pain, stem cells are harvested from the patient’s body and then injected into affected areas. These cells then aid in the repair of damaged tendons, ligaments, bone, cartilage, and tissue while decreasing recovery time and possibly eliminating the need for rehabilitation periods entirely.


What other diseases or conditions can stem cells effectively treat?

In theory, stem cells can treat all kinds of health conditions and diseases. However, researchers need substantial amounts of time and resources to be able to study the condition or disease and the impact embryonic or adult stem cells can have on them. With enough study and research, stem cell therapy stands to make significant breakthroughs in the treatment of all kinds of diseases or conditions.


The most widely used treatment is through the transplanting of blood cells to treat conditions and diseases of the blood system, immune system, and restoring these systems following treatments of certain cancers. Skin grafts have been grown using stem cells harvested from skin cells. These grafts are meant for patients who have suffered life-threatening injuries or burns. New treatments are being developed to repair damaged corneas in the near future as well.


Stem cell therapy has been in use to treat several conditions like lymphoma, leukemia, sickle cell anemia, etc. Cancers of the blood such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myelogeneous leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myelogeneous leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are currently being treated through advanced stem cell therapies. Blood system and bone marrow diseases such as severe aplastic anemia, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), Fanconi anemia, pure red cell aplasia, congenital thrombocytopenia, sickle cell disease, and beta thalassemia major are also being successful treated by stem cell therapies. These therapies have also proven effective in treating immune system conditions like severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS).


Besides these diseases and conditions, stem cell therapy has also proven to be exceptionally effective in treating heart disease, type I diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lung disease, spinal cord injuries, retinal injuries, and specific cancers and tumors like wing sarcoma, breast cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and neuroblastoma. This form of therapy is also used to treat hepatic veno-occlusive disease, a condition which causes the veins in the liver to become obstructed. This condition is often a complication caused by high-dose chemotherapy administered before performing a bone marrow transplant. Studies have also shown that stem cells may also have great potential in treating psychological disorders like depression and schizophrenia.


Stem cell injections

Thanks to recent breakthroughs directly resulting from the advancement of stem cell research, more patients are resorting to using stem cell therapy or direct stem cell injections to help treat their conditions or relieve their pain. These injections are non-invasive or minimally invasive and offer a great alternative for invasive forms of treatment like surgery. They provide long-lasting results while promoting and stimulating your body’s natural process of regeneration and healing. Various conditions and diseases like anemia, specific cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic pain have been successfully treated with stem cell injections.


The process of injecting stem cells involves harvesting them from your body, typically from your bone marrow, which is then processed and injected into affected areas. You might need multiple injections depending on your condition and its severity. In other cases, stem cells are infused into your blood via a bone marrow transplant. Here, the stem cells travel to the affected area on their own and begin repairing the damaged tissue.


Stem cell injections ensure that they are directed to the right place in your body where they can multiply and become specialized tissue cells, or they could simply repair or replace disease or dead tissue. In certain cases, transplanted stem cells are converted into tissue-specific cells, and in others, they merely produce growth factors which stimulate existing cells.


There are two types of stem cell transplants - autologous and allogeneic. Autologous transplant involves the transplant of stem cells from your own body. This is often used after administering high-dose chemotherapy. Allogeneic transplantation involves the use of a donor’s stem cells. For this process, it is crucial to find bone marrow that matches yours or you might suffer from graft-versus-host disease where the healthy transplanted cells can attack and destroy your cells.


Are there different types of stem cell treatments available?

Stem cell therapy has seen several advancements in the last couple of decades. Scientists have discovered means to effectively transfer stem cells to affected areas in a patient’s body to help treat a condition or simply repair diseased tissue cells. The most common and widely used form of stem cell treatment is bone marrow transplant. There are other treatments available which use stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood.


The idea behind stem cell treatments is to introduce stem cells to organs, tissues, or systems to aid in healing and recovery. Stem cell transplants are given to people who have been subjected to high-dose chemotherapy to treat specific cancers or treat diseases like leukemia, aplastic anemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This helps their bodies replenish their incapacitated blood and immune systems. There are three types of stem cell transplants.

·      Autologous - This treatment involves the use of stem cells harvested from the patient themselves

·      Allogeneic - In this treatment, a donor’s stem cells are used

·      Syngeneic - This involves the use of stem cells harvested from the patient’s identical twin

To ensure that allogeneic stem cell transplantation works, the patient must use cells from someone who is almost an exact match, or this could result in serious side effects.


Can I use my own stem cells?

The answer is yes and in fact, in most cases a patient's own stem cells are the preferred choice for treatment as it simplifies the process and rules out the possibility of any side effects. A patient’s own stem cells can be harvested and used to treat diseases or conditions they may have like certain cancers, anemia, lymphoma, etc. Your bone marrow and blood system house a large percentage of your stem cells. The stem cells from your marrow turn into platelets, white blood cells, or red blood cells which help keep you healthy. These stem cells can be harvested from your bone marrow or blood, processed, and transplanted back to you in what is called an autologous stem cell transplant.


To be eligible for an autologous transplant, your doctor will study your current overall health, age, and other criteria such as your medical history and how far your current illness has progressed. If you qualify, your cells will be harvested using peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (PBSCT) where the stem cells will be derived from your blood. The collected blood is processed so that stem cells are separated. These stem cells can then be injected or transfused into your body to treat your condition. In most cases, autologous stem cell transplantation is conducted after the patient has been given high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy to help combat any type of cancer they may have. This is done to help replenish their blood system and improve their immunity which would have been compromised due to chemotherapy.

How long does it take for the transplanted stem cells to start working?

After stem cell transplantation, your bone marrow will start producing new cells in about 1 to 3 weeks. During this time, patients are normally kept in isolation and administered antibiotics to prevent any form of infection. The patient’s blood will be periodically tested to check blood cell levels. However, remember that each patient’s system is unique, so they will respond differently to treatments. Some patients report results during their treatment, while others have seen changes after a couple of months.

Are there any side effects?

Stem cell transplantation has shown to be a successful form of treatment, but the extent of its effectiveness does vary based on criteria such as the patient’s age, general health, and the progression of their disease or condition. But, just like any other form of treatment, stem cell therapy also has its own side effects. These side effects are rarely serious and can be treated accordingly. The most serious side effects are generally observed in situations where the stem cells from a donor are not accepted by the host body leading to rejection disorders.

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) can occur if the donor’s stem cells attack the host’s cells because they are different. Unfortunately, GVHD is reported to be the most common risk arising from stem cell transplants. Graft rejection occurs when the transplanted stem cells are rejected by the recipient’s body. This happens more often if the donor is not a very good match or unrelated to the recipient. Graft failure is the rarest risk with stem cell transplantation. It occurs when the transplanted stem cells fail to do what they are supposed to do like produce new blood cells or become specialized tissue cells. These risks are typically treated using growth factors or another dose of transplants.

How much do stem cell injections cost?

The cost of stem cell injections can vary depending on what state you’re getting them, what hospital, type of treatment, and your condition. The cost typically includes medical examination, tests, and the treatment. American clinics are known to place the cost of their treatments around $10,000 with some clinics offering reduced prices of $7,000 while others can charge a whopping $100,000. Since stem cell therapy is still considered a cutting-edge form of treatment, a basic health insurance plan may not cover all the charges.


How long will the effects last?

Each patient's response to the treatment varies to a degree. There is no clear indication as to how long the effects of stem cell therapy will last, but there are factors that can affect the longevity of the treatment. These factors include your age, overall health, the progression of your condition or disease, the type of stem cell treatment that has been administered, your external environment, medication, genetics, lifestyle choices etc. While some patients have reported only short-term relief from each round of stem cell therapy, others have stated that they have experienced lasting relief from their conditions for several months to a couple of years following their treatment.