Stem cell treatments are one of the most promising forms of medical treatments currently available to patients suffering from a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions. In addition to alleviating the symptoms and improving the prognosis of various diseases, stem cell treatments are also utilized in preventative medicine. Many medical treatments involve painful, complicated surgeries and/or expensive prescription medications with negative side effects. This is what makes stem cell treatments so compelling; a patient can find relief from their symptoms without needing a painful surgery that requires extensive recovery time. Furthermore patients who utilize stem cell treatments won’t be forced to endure one prescription medication after another, which can save them from a time consuming and painful process of trial and error.
Stem cell treatments are derived from a 1981 study in which Sir Martin Evans of Cambridge University identified embryonic stem cells in mice. Since that 1981 study science has come a long way and much has been learned about the benefits and potential of stem cell treatments. Many people don’t realize that stem cell treatments have been in use since the 1950s when bone marrow transplants were first used to treat leukemia. This is due to a significant amount of media hype, which consisted of sensationalist reports without any background, history, information or context for stem cell treatments.
Stem cell treatments have been surrounded by years of unwarranted, unfounded and unnecessary controversy. Stem cell treatments only became controversial as a result of religious organizations, right wing political groups and right wing politicians. One of the major stumbling blocks to stem cell treatments has been a lack of federal funding due to political pressure from the religious right. This pressure led to public policy initiatives that hindered the advancement of stem cell treatments. Various laws and procedures now exist regarding the harvesting and development of stem cells that dictate how they are used in stem cell treatments. Congress has made attempts in the past to amend these laws, or to pass new ones with bipartisan support, only to have these laws vetoed; it is an extremely frustrating situation. Thanks to the internet everyone has access to unlimited, unbiased and free information, and people are learning more and more about stem cell treatments every day. Hopefully this will lead to increased pressure on elected officials to enact legislation that is advantageous to stem cell treatments in general, and patients who could benefit from it in particular.
Significant progress has been made in determining the multitude of ways in which stem cell treatments can help alleviate, cure and most importantly prevent medical conditions and diseases.
THE BENEFITS OF STEM CELL TREATMENT
Scientists are coming up with new stem cell treatments every day. They are determining how our stem cells transform or differentiate into the highly specialized and diverse range of cells that make up the human body. This research into stem cell treatments alone is helpful in treating many illnesses and diseases. An understanding into how these cells operate can give great insight into diseases like cancer, which are caused by abnormal cellular behavior. The unfortunate reality is that as we age, or when we are injured or become ill, our body is depleted of stem cells that act as vital repairmen for different parts of our bodies. This is one of the many benefits of stem cell treatments; they allow us to replenish our natural supply of stem cells in a safe and effective manner, which works as an incredible treatment for many different conditions.
The biggest benefit of stem cell treatments is the formulation of stem cells for medical therapies. For example, we currently rely upon donated organs and tissues to replace or repair damaged or dysfunctional ones. This presents a problem because the waiting list for donated organs and tissues is extremely long, and many people suffer for years or die awaiting transplants. With the currently available stem cell treatments this doesn’t have to be the reality. Stem cells offer an excellent and reliable form of replacement cells to treat diseases and reduce the suffering and mortality rates of various conditions.
To put things in perspective, this is a brief list of the conditions that stem cell treatments have been proven to effectively treat; Parkinson’s disease, type 1 diabetes, arthritis, burn victims, and cardiovascular diseases. Patients who have had a heart attack that has caused damage to the muscle could have the damaged tissue replaced by new and healthy muscle cells. Parkinson’s patients who suffer with severe tremors, difficulty walking and trouble sleeping will no longer have to suffer when their dysfunctional and damaged brain tissue is replaced with new, healthy stem cells that have been used to create fully functional brain tissue. Most promising of all is that stem cell treatments have the ability to address genetic defects present from birth by introducing cells without these defects present. This could save people with certain conditions from a life of difficulty, pain and torment. The benefits of stem cell treatments for burn victims in particular have been enormous. All a burn victim needs is a very small piece of skin made from stem cells to cover a burn that is often much larger than the size of the piece of skin used in the treatment. Stem cell treatments are also extremely beneficial for the pharmaceutical industry. The implications of this are incredible; imagine being able to test a brand new drug using stem cells created specifically for the drug being tested. For instance, a cancer cell line could be used to test an anti-tumor medication. This will allow pharmaceutical companies to know how safe and effective a drug is before it is used on human models in clinical trials. This gives medical science a huge advantage.
Because of all the groundbreaking research, clinical trials, and the use of stem cell treatments, the phrase “irreversible damage” will no longer be a part of our vocabulary; stem cell treatments can make irreversible damage a thing of the past. People will no longer have to endure painful surgeries and potentially dangerous medications with awful side effects. Chronic pain patients can be given a much greater quality of life. People born with serious, debilitating genetic defects can be given a new lease on life. Burn victims can avoid painful treatments and regenerate their skin quickly and efficiently. Pharmaceutical companies can be more confident regarding the safety and efficacy of a particular drug, using stem cells only before the drug is ever used on a single human being.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND STEM CELL TREATMENTS
The reason stem cell treatments have been so attractive and interesting to medical science for so many years is because stem cells are the so-called “building blocks of nature”. Stem cell treatments rely on the fact that these cells have the ability to grow and develop into specialized cells that make up a wide range of organs and tissues. Since stem cells have the capacity to transform into many different types of tissues they are invaluable to the healing process for many different diseases, conditions and injuries.
Essentially there are two types of stem cells: there are stem cells that are found in certain adult tissues, and there are stem cells that are found in three-to-five-day-old embryos. Adult stem cells are found in several different parts of the body, including; brain tissue, bone marrow, muscle tissue, skin tissue, the blood and liver tissue. These adult stem cells are very valuable and can change into a multitude of different cell types however they aren’t quite as valuable as their embryonic counterparts. The stem cells found in embryos are pluripotent, meaning they have the incredible ability to develop into any of the 220 different types of cells in the human body. In addition to being extremely versatile, embryonic stem cells are easier to grow in the laboratory than adult stem cells. This is because adult stem cell lines proliferate for a limited period of time, while embryonic stem cells will continue dividing forever.
Medical science has known about the potential of stem cell treatments since 1956 when they performed the first bone marrow transplant. The stem cells within a donor’s bone marrow are used to regenerate healthy bone marrow in patients with leukemia and other blood diseases. Bone marrow transplants are still being utilized to this day because they are so successful at promoting the growth of new, healthy cells.
Embryonic stem cell treatments offer even more sensational treatment outcomes for patients suffering with type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and blindness. Embryonic, otherwise known as pluripotent stem cell treatment research will ultimately usher in a new era of pharmaceutical testing, new cures for many diseases, and a better overall understanding of genetic abnormalities and human development.
Scientists first began studying embryonic stem cells in mice during the early 1980s. Unfortunately mouse embryos develop much differently than human embryos, which lead researchers to find a way to isolate human embryonic stem cells. This big break came in 1998 when a team lead by James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin successfully harvested stem cells from human embryos donated by fertility clinics. This was the first time anyone was able to accomplish this and since then scientists have been able to develop approximately 400 stem cell lines using both private and public funds.
Embryonic stem cells are harvested in one of two ways; they are either harvested from existing human embryos, or they are harvested from embryos that have been created using a type of cloning process referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer. This cloning process was developed by the Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut, famous for cloning “Dolly the sheep” in 1996. During somatic cell nuclear transfer, the nucleus of a human egg cell is removed and replaced with the nucleus of a donor’s adult cell, which contains the person’s DNA. The egg is then stimulated to begin subdividing, eventually growing into an embryo with stem cells that can be harvested. The reason somatic cell nuclear transfer is so promising is because it creates an embryo with stem cells that contain the same DNA code as the cell nucleus donor. This will guarantee that any therapies created using stem cells harvested from these embryos will be compatible with that donor’s immune system. For example, a patient who suffered a heart attack could be given new heart tissue that already contains his or her own DNA, greatly reducing the possibility of the body rejecting the new tissue.
In 2007 a team of scientists were able to create pluripotent stem cells from adult human skin cells. This was a major breakthrough in the field of stem cell treatments because this would remove the difficult challenge of obtaining donated embryos. It would also no longer be necessary to destroy donated embryos, eliminating the controversy surrounding stem cell research.
Stem cell research and stem cell treatments have both come a long way respectively. Every day scientists and researchers are learning new information and are making discoveries that lead to new stem cell treatments. Right now, clinics located throughout the United States are utilizing stem cell treatments during same-day procedures. They are treating a wide variety of diseases and ailments such as skin, corneal and bone injuries by grafting tissues made from stem cells. They are also treating degenerative and damaged muscle tissue and spinal injuries by harvesting a patient’s own stem cells and injecting them into the damaged site.
Stem cell treatments are extremely promising and exciting. In the past, suffering patients would be at the whim of a painful surgery, or they would be forced to endure trial and error with potentially dangerous drugs. Understanding the science behind stem cells and different stem cell treatments can give patients the opportunity to seek these treatments as an alternative to potentially dangerous and debilitating drugs and surgeries.
WHERE CAN YOU GET STEM CELL TREATMENT?
Another promising aspect of stem cell treatments is accessibility. A prospective patient interested in receiving stem cell treatments is in luck for multiple reasons. First of all, stem cell treatments are a same-day procedure, meaning that they can be performed in a variety of locations, and don’t require patients to go to a hospital or remain there for an extended period of time. Stem cell treatments can be administered in small local clinics and doctors’ offices. Furthermore, stem cell treatments are currently approved by the FDA for a number of diseases and conditions including but not limited to; different types of cancer, immune system disorders, and blood disorders.
There are currently at least 570 stem cell treatment clinics in the United States of America. They offer stem cell treatments for chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, autism, sports injuries, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. If you live in cities such as New York or Beverly Hills it is more than likely that you live within a 30-minute drive from one of these stem cell clinics. Nearly every state in the United States of America has at least one clinic or doctor offering stem cell treatments, but there are certain states with a considerably higher concentration of these stem cell clinics. Most of the clinics offering stem cell treatments are located in New York, California, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Colorado. There are also certain cities with an especially high concentration of stem cell treatment clinics. Cities such as Beverly Hills, New York, San Antonio and Los Angeles have by far the most stem cell clinics in the entire nation.
Unfortunately it used to be the case that if you lived in the United States and wanted to try stem cell treatments, you would need to leave the country, a practice referred to by many in the industry as “stem cell tourism”. Many other nations were ahead of the United States regarding stem cell treatments because they allow public funding for the research necessary to develop safe and effective treatments. Therefore foreign countries used to be the only place a patient could seek stem cell treatments. Now patients are lucky to be able to find clinics and doctors offering stem cell treatments within the United States. This is a huge help to prospective patients, because now they can avoid time-consuming trips with costly hotels and airfare.
The current state of affairs concerning stem cell treatment research, combined with the advanced proliferation of clinics and doctors specializing in stem cell treatments, has created a unique opportunity for alternatives to typical western medicine consisting of drugs and surgery. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, “stem cell tourism” is no longer necessary. Patients can now travel 30 minutes or less by car in most cases to the nearest clinic to receive stem cell treatments. The biggest asset prospective patients have by far when it comes to stem cell treatments is easy access to many different clinics that specialize in stem cell treatments proliferating throughout the United States.
WHAT RESULTS HAVE STEM CELLS SHOWN?
By far the most important measure of any medical treatment is the results. Keeping this in mind, we now have a plethora of information regarding the positive results stem cell treatments have had, and are still having on patients suffering from a myriad of diseases and conditions. Many different clinics offering stem cell treatments in different forms have opened in nearly every state in the country. These stem cell clinics have proliferated at such a high rate based on solid evidence, consistent results, and an excellent safety profile.
Imagine what you think medicine might be like in the future; the ability to simply show up at a local clinic and fix failing organs and tissues with a non-invasive, same-day procedure, equivalent in time to about the average lunch break. Now imagine all of this with no side effects and no recovery time needed, sounds too good to be true, right? Given the overwhelmingly positive results we have seen with stem cell treatments thus far, and the promising direction stem cell research is headed, this is precisely the way I would describe the current state of stem cell treatments.
Recently I had the opportunity to read about a clinical research trial for a certain type of stem cell treatments for physically handicapped patients. The clinical trial was conducted by Asteria Biotherapeutics and they followed six patients who had 10 million embryonic stem cells transplanted into their spinal cord for an entire year; the results were absolutely remarkable. Four out of six patients, or 2/3, showed striking improvement in their basic functions such as moving their hands, arms and feet. Furthermore these patients were able to feed and bathe themselves after years of being dependent upon others. Dr. Richard Fessler lead investigator of the Asterias clinical trial and professor in the department of neurosurgery at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago stated that in the 30 years he has taught and reviewed clinical trials he has never seen results this good. Many people may not realize the promise and potential of the results of this clinical trial, but as of now there are absolutely no FDA-approved treatments for spinal cord injuries. These new embryonic stem cell treatments are not just wishful thinking anymore, they are showing real results, helping paralyzed people regain their ability to walk, move and function on their own.
Improving the lives of handicapped people is only one aspect of the positive results stem cell treatments are producing. Patients are experiencing improvement of cognitive abilities, reduction or elimination of pain, increased strength and mobility, higher tolerance for chemotherapy, and quicker healing and recovery. Another excellent example of how the results of stem cell treatments are changing the medical field is stem cell treatments for orthopedic issues. It has become extremely commonplace in the United States for men and women to receive knee replacement surgery. This surgery is extraordinarily painful, extremely invasive and involves an extensive recovery period. Due to the new and revolutionary stem cell treatments available for orthopedic issues, patients are abandoning the knee replacement more and more. As medical science keeps people alive longer and longer, the knee replacement has become almost inevitable. Fortunately stem cell treatments have changed this. Many clinics across the United States have begun offering stem cell treatments for a variety of orthopedic conditions, and the results are very clear; stem cell patients score better after one year in physician assessment scores, and have significantly better functional scores than knee replacements. When it comes to hip replacements, patients who received stem cell treatments were able to return to their previous sporting activities at a 34% higher rate.
The results of stem cell treatments have been nothing short of incredible. Stem cell treatments have shown themselves to be nothing less than a veritable fountain of youth. What is so amazing about them is that stem cell treatments do not discriminate; patients suffering from a wide variety of illnesses and conditions can benefit greatly because of the nature of the treatment itself. Whether it is the aging population benefiting from increased range of motion and decreased pain from joint stem cell therapy, or paralyzed patients regaining their ability to walk, stem cell treatments are fast becoming the superheroes of medical science.
ARE STEM CELLS A FORM OF PAIN MANAGEMENT?
It’s a widely known fact that the field of stem cell treatments is disrupting many aspects of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry, doctors and surgeons probably aren’t thrilled about the notion of their drugs and surgeries becoming obsolete due to stem cell treatments that produce superior results with a much better safety profile. Pain management is a field mired in controversy and a lack of real, lasting results. For years “big pharma” has churned out a succession of prescription opioids, one more deadly and addictive than the next. As a nation we are now feeling the effects of this pain management strategy. Statistically speaking opioid addicts are extremely likely to have been prescribed an opioid by a doctor, which we are now finding precipitated addiction in many cases. This addiction epidemic has caused more deaths in the past few years than automobile accidents and gun related deaths, combined.
Once again it is stem cell treatments that offer an amazing alternative to this crisis. By utilizing stem cell treatments instead of opioids for pain management, we can prevent addiction from ever developing in patients, let alone the eventual overdoses and death that addiction brings. Stem cell treatments also show promise not only as a replacement for opioid medications that cause addiction and overdose in many patients, but also as a method for reversing opioid tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Opioid-induced hyperalgesia, otherwise known as abnormal pain sensitivity, is a side effect that opioid users develop over time. After a certain period, patients become increasingly sensitive to pain, despite the use of opioid-based painkillers. In some cases patients even experience pain from stimuli that wasn’t previously painful. This is just one of numerous problems associated with the use of opioids for pain management.
Jianguo Cheng, MD, PhD and his colleagues at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic have been able to develop a patented method for attenuating opioid tolerance and hyperalgesia using mesenchymal stem cell treatments. Furthermore they’ve been able to reduce or completely eliminate pain in rats and mice with nerve damage. In the clinic’s most recent study they were evaluating the effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cell treatments in rats and mice. They did this by assessing foot withdrawal thresholds due to thermal and mechanical stimulation. These stem cell treatments produced immune modulatory and anti-inflammatory effects, promoted sensory nerve repair, and showed strong analgesic properties. Dr. Cheng stated that these stem cell treatments offer the greatest alternative to current treatment modalities, particularly for neuropathic pain that rarely responds to opioid painkillers. In fact, statistically speaking about 1/3 of chronic pain patients suffering from neuropathic pain report little to no relief from the use of opioids.
Doctors are also utilizing stem cell treatments to help repair worn out discs in the spine. In a recent study conducted by Dr. Joseph Meyer Jr., a pain medicine specialist and anesthesiologist at Columbia Interventional Pain Center in St. Louis, he harvested stem cells from the bone marrow of 24 patients and re-injected it into the space around their damaged spinal disc(s). All 24 of these patients went through a variety of diagnostic imaging tests before the study began and all of them had some degree of disc degeneration, some worse than others. Ten out of twelve patients involved in the study reported that their pain lessened in the two to four months following the stem cell injections. After a year, 8 out of those 10 reported that they still had no pain. The other 12 patients had positive results following the stem cell treatment, but unfortunately their results could not be attributed to the injections because they went on to seek other therapies as well, so it’s impossible to pin their results to the injections 100%. Out of all 24 patients, not a single one had complications or side effects of any kind as a result of the procedure.
In the past, pain management patients were offered three options; use dangerous and addictive opioids that may or may not alleviate your pain, undergo some kind of surgery to correct the issue that is causing your pain which may or may not work and will most likely require the use of opioids, bringing us back to the first option, or live with it. This dilemma has made chronic pain patients one of the most depressed, anxious, addicted, and suicidal in the entire medical field. Stem cell treatments are beginning to permanently alter the entire landscape of pain management. Now chronic pain patients can rely on a new treatment with a better success rate, and more importantly a much better safety profile.