Stem Cells – The Godfather of Regenerative Medicine
By Causenta Wellness
Stem cells were discovered decades ago, in the 1980s, and we have known how to derive them since 1998, so in many ways, they are the original therapy of regenerative medicine.
Regenerative medicine is a term that applies to any treatments that regrow, repair, or replace damaged or diseased cells, organs, or tissues.
Stem cells are special human cells that have the ability to develop into many different types of cells from muscle to brain and everything in between. In some cases, they can also repair damaged tissues.
Regenerative medicine is old news at Causenta
Dr. Tom Incledon, Founder & CEO of Causenta, has been exploring regenerative medicine, including researching stem cells and stem cell treatment, for years. He has also been a recipient of stem cell treatment for arthritis.
“Years ago, we treated an athlete who could bench 500 pounds, but his shoulder was killing him,” says Incledon. “He had damage to his shoulder joint and muscles, as well as the rotator cuff that surrounds the joint.
The team at Causenta injected stem cells into this patient’s shoulder thinking it would resurface the cartilage and repair the labrum (a piece of fibrocartilage – rubbery tissue – that is attached to the rim of the shoulder socket, keeping the ball of the joint in place) inside the joint, as well as fix the damaged rotator cuff outside the joint.
“A few months later, the patient came back; he was feeling great, benching 500 pounds again,” says Incledon. “So, we did another MRI to see what had actually been repaired by the stem cell treatment.”
The scan showed that the muscles on the outside in the rotator cuff were repaired, but the labrum and cartilage were still damaged. “In essence, the stuff inside the joint wasn’t fixed, but the outside of the joint did get fixed,” says Incledon. “We realized we couldn’t control what the stem cells fixed or where they went, once we injected them.”
Is stem cell treatment effective?
The short answer, sometimes. As with the case above, the patient felt better after stem cell treatment because his joint pain was gone, but the root of the cause was not repaired.
This is likely because stem cells are attracted to the site in the body that causes the most pain; doctors need a way to keep stem cells in a certain location and, at this point, that tactic has yet to be uncovered.
In other cases, stem cell treatment may not be successful because you do not have the right type of stem cells. If you have arthritis and want to use stem cell treatment to eliminate joint pain, you have to be injected with stem cells that can fix your joint.
“You have to know if those stem cells can become muscular-skeletal cells,” says Incledon. “If not, the stem cell treatment will not help you at all.”
“In my experience, and I have spent millions of dollars on stem cell treatments, I didn’t feel pain after, but I can’t say it was worth the investment,” says Incledon. “With stem cell treatments, I see either a home run or a strikeout and not much in between, so it’s difficult to recommend stem cell treatment across the board. At this point, I think exosomes have more therapeutic potential.”
What about insurance?
Another consideration is that stem cell treatment is not covered by most insurance.
“In our country, we want to move away from the model of ‘now you’re suffering so we’ll treat it’,” says Incledon. “We want to get to the point where we can be preventive and treat things before they become a threat. And, while it is cheaper, but we haven’t gotten there yet.”
It will be more affordable for insurance companies and patients when the norm is to prevent disease instead of treating it.
In general, Incledon cautions people about stem cell treatment. “Most of time, stem cell treatment does not meet people’s expectations,” says Incledon. “Stem cell treatment is also very inconsistent, and little is known about the discrepancies.”
What are the limitations?
In the United States, harvesting and disseminating stem cells is an FDA-approved process. Because of that, there are certain limitations on the doctors who are performing the stem cell treatment. Currently, in the U.S., all providers can do is thaw the vial of stem cells and inject it.
Doctors cannot further examine the cells or change them into the type of cell (brain, muscle, cartilage, bone, nervous system) a patient may need.
“When a pharmaceutical company is making the vials of stem cells, they don’t know what the final use of those cells will be,” says Incledon. “So, the stem cells someone is treated with may not be categorized as ones the end user would want for maximum results.”
This biological manipulation of understanding the cluster differentiators on stem cells and changing the cell type prior to stem cell treatment has not been standardized and verified as safe. “There is not a sterile and consistent process for this yet,” says Incledon. “Once this happens, stem cells will move ahead in efficacy.”
What questions should I ask before a stem cell treatment?
So, in the meantime, what can you do to get the most out of your stem cell treatment? Ask good questions prior to your injection:
- What are the types of stem cells I’ll be getting?
- Can the stem cell you’re using become the type of stem cell I need?
- How many stem cells are there in the vial?
- How are you going to keep the stem cells where they need to be in my body?
What are the different types of stem cells?
There are five types of stem cells, each with their own benefits:
- Totipotent (or Omnipotent) stem cells: These are the most powerful stem cells because they can become any other type of cell. The best example of these stem cells is a fertilized egg or zygote.
- Pluripotent stem cells: These are the second most powerful stem cells because they can self-renew and become most tissues and organs in body. These cells are found in embryos or fetuses.
- Multipotent stem cells: These stem cells are a middle-range type of stem cell in that they can self-renew and differentiate into a specific range of cell types. An example of a multipotent stem cell is the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC). They can change into osteoblasts (a type of bone cell), myocytes (muscle cells), adipocytes (fat cells), and chondrocytes (cartilage cells), making these stem cells very versatile in their treatment usages.
- Oligopotent stem cells: While these stem cells can self-renew and differentiate, they can only do so to a limited extent into closely related cell types. An excellent example of this stem cell type is the hematopoietic stem cell (HSC), which is derived from mesoderm that can differentiate into blood cells such as myeloid and lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells include basophils, dendritic cells, eosinophils, erythrocytes, macrophages, megakaryocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, and platelets, while lymphoid cells include B cells, T cells, and natural kills cells.
- Unipotent Stem Cells: These are the least potent and most limited type of stem cell because they can only self-renew and change into a single cell type. This is true of muscle stem cells.
Where do you get stem cells?
From a consumer standpoint, stem cells, which are undifferentiated or “blank” cells, come from FDA-approved centers that can isolate the stem cells and place them into vials for transport to doctors’ offices where they are frozen until ready for use.
From a scientific standpoint, stem cells are harvested from biological waste, which is material left over from healthy pregnancies. This includes amniotic fluid and umbilical cord tissue. Stem cells can also be harvested from an aborted fetus.
“In America, this source of stem cells has led to ethical debates,” says Incledon. “The question being, can you harm one life to save another?” Because of this debate, there was a period of time during which stem cell treatment research was limited in the U.S.
Currently, regenerative medicine and stem cell research and collaboration is booming. “In another two to five years, it is likely that research and advances will leverage technologies that will lead to 3D printing of stem cells that we need to help with repairing the body,” says Incledon. “This will transform the way we treat disease. Regenerative medicine has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry.”
What are some uses of stem cells?
Because stem cells have the capability to become anything, stem cell treatment has unlimited options. The most common stem cell treatments now are:
- Severe burns
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Joint pain
- Heart disease
- Hearing loss
- Retinal disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions
- Traumatic spinal cord injury
One important thing about stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury is around imaging performed after the serious accident that damages spinal cord.
“Make sure the radiologist notes the gap or distance between the neurons,” says Incledon. “This allows care teams to see if the severed ends are growing toward one another following stem cell treatment.”
Incledon notes that if the gap is 10 millimeters or closer, research shows the areas can reconnect. If farther than that, healing the spinal cord is less likely. “If you can prevent scarring in the gap and get stem cells into the spinal cord, you have a better chance of reconnecting the wire, aka the spinal cord,” says Incledon.
How can you administer stem cells to people?
Stem cells can be injected into:
- a blood vessel (intravenous)
- joint (intra-articular)
- muscle (intramuscular)
- bone marrow (intraosseous)
- spinal or brain canal (intra-canal)
- a space in the body (interstitial)
If you are interested in learning more about stem cell treatment, how it might help you, and how it fits into an individualized wellness plan, contact the team at Causenta for a consultation today.