Adult Stem Cells: The Future of Medicine
Julian Whitaker, MD
When John Gurdon was 15, his school report card included this evaluation: “I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous… it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”
At age 79, Sir John Gurdon, world-renowned developmental biologist, shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in medicine for his revolutionary work on stem cells. It just goes to show there’s some truth to the old saying that you can grow up to be anything you want to be.
The same could be said of stem cells. Most of the cells in your body are highly specialized. A kidney cell, for example, can replicate, multiply, and create new kidney tissue, but it can’t morph into a lung cell or neuron. Stem cells, on the other hand, can “grow up” to be many different tissue types. They can become whatever is needed to improve organ function and health.
That’s why the scientific world is abuzz with excitement, for stem cells have the potential of repairing damaged organs, regenerating aging cells, and even growing new body parts. Research in many of these areas is still in its early stages, but I want to tell you about a therapy that is available today. No, it doesn’t involve embryonic cells—just your own adult stem cells.
Zero in Where Needed
The primary function of adult stem cells, which reside throughout the body, is to maintain and repair tissues, and their innate brilliance lies in their ability to zero in on areas of damage or degeneration. Signaled by inflammation—the body’s universal cry for help—they migrate to wherever they’re needed and, taking cues from surrounding cells, do whatever is required for tissue restoration and regeneration.
It’s easy to see how concentrating and mobilizing these remarkable cells would have tremendous therapeutic benefits, and that has certainly proved to be the case. Adult stem cells are being used to treat a wide variety of health challenges across a broad range of clinical specialties.
Cardiologists have used patients’ own adult stem cells to regenerate cardiac muscle tissue damaged by heart attacks and to improve function in those with heart failure. Adult stem cells have also improved outcomes in multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, stroke, and other neurological disorders, and they hold promise for patients with urinary incontinence and interstitial cystitis.
In orthopedics, adult stem cells have been deployed to promote healing of fractures and, when injected into injured or degenerated knee, elbow, shoulder, and hip joints, to stimulate cartilage growth and increase function. They’re also delivered directly to aching necks and backs to relieve inflammation and pain. As a result of these interventions, some patients have been able to forgo orthopedic surgery.
Dermatologists have enthusiastically adopted adult stem cell therapy and use it to fill in and plump up skin, both for cosmetic and reconstructive applications. And some specialists are even using it to promote hair restoration.
Fat Is Rich in Stem Cells
So where do these rejuvenating cells come from, and how do we get them where they’re needed?
For years, bone marrow has been the preferred source as it is a known repository of “mesenchymal” cells—adult stem cells that are able to differentiate, or change into, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, muscles, and nerves. However, bone marrow stem cells aren’t particularly abundant, and they have to be extracted and cultured over several days to get enough for therapeutic use. Furthermore, their number and viability decline dramatically with age.
More recently, fat was discovered to also harbor mesenchymal stem cells. In fact, much-maligned fat, which most of us have in abundance, has turned out to be a far richer source, containing thousands of times more stem cells than bone marrow. Problem is, for reasons that are not entirely clear, these valuable cells aren’t doing you much good—they’re more or less just hanging out in your fat.
The good news is that new technologies now make it possible to remove a few ounces of a patient’s fat through liposuction, separate out the stem cells in a special process that yields extremely high numbers of viable cells, and then return them back into that person’s body via an IV or injection.
In my opinion, this is the most promising method of harvesting and delivering adult stem cells. Performed in a physician’s office, under sedation and local anesthesia and using a sterile “closed system” technology (so the cells never come into contact with the environment), there is minimal discomfort and risk of infection. And because the stem cells come from the patient’s own body, there is no risk of rejection or disease transmission.
No Controversy Here
Stem cell therapy has been an intensely controversial subject because of its association with human embryonic cells, so let me be crystal clear: There is nothing controversial or unethical about using your own cells in a safe and therapeutic manner. As a matter of fact, as more and more research demonstrates the tremendous value of adult stem cells, I predict that this treatment will become widely accepted by virtually all physicians and patients.
I’m not suggesting it will cure whatever ails you. Nobody can guarantee results for this or any other treatment, and outcomes vary from patient to patient. However, as I see it, adult stem cell therapy is the future of medicine and has the potential of reversing disease, alleviating suffering, and improving the quality of life for all mankind.
- Adult stem cells are a powerful treatment with a broad range of uses, including musculoskeletal, neurological, autoimmune, pulmonary, urological, and skin conditions. Patients who are on blood thinners or have active cancer or infections are not appropriate candidates.
- In my opinion, fat-derived stem cell therapy (officially called adipose-derived stromal vascular cell therapy) is the safest and most accessible type of treatment at this time. To find out if a physician in your area offers this treatment, visit stemcellrevolution.com. To learn more about receiving treatment at the Newport Beach Stem Cell Treatment Center, visit nbstemcell.com or call (855) 627-2820.
- Gallagher J. Gurdon and Yamanaka share Nobel prize for stem cell work. BBC News. 2012 Oct 8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19869673
- Lalu MM, et al. Safety of cell therapy with mesenchymal stromal cells (SafeCell): a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. PLoS ONE. 2012 Oct 25;7(10): e47559. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047559
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