Therapeutic stem cells have the potential to repair and replace aged or injured tissues. Newer research also shows that stem cells release high concentrations of helpful molecules that modulate the immune system, improve wound healing, and treat a variety of diseases.
Stem cells are cells that have the potential to become several different types of cells. One type of stem cell—a mesenchymal stem cell—can become a muscle cell, a bone cell, a cartilage cell, or any of about a dozen other types of cells. Virtually all mature cells in the body that make up our tissues and organs start out as stem cells.
Stem cells have two main functions. The first function is to serve as the building blocks for the body. Stem cells differentiate or specialize into different cell types to create tissues and organs during development. The second function is renewal, repair and recovery. Stems cells can replace old (senescent), injured, or dead cells with new cells of the same type. Stem cells naturally replace aged cells or they can speed up recovery, treat injury, or reverse the signs of aging.
Most tissues in the body contain some stem cells; however, they tend to be few and far between. That being said, researchers have found a few plentiful sources of stem cells. Large populations of stem cells can be harvested from embryonic tissue, umbilical cord tissue/Wharton’s Jelly, adipose tissue (fat), and bone marrow. The use of embryonic stem cells is still quite controversial, but stem cells from the other sources are not. Umbilical cord tissue is collected after a child’s birth from the cord that would otherwise be discarded as medical waste. Stem cells can also be created in a lab by genetically reprogramming adult cells. Lab-created stem cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells.
While stem cells presenting naturally in tissues can respond to age-related changes or injury, they tend to work slowly and inefficiently. This is especially true as people age—the number and regenerative capacity of stem cells decreases with age. When doctors infuse stem cells into the body, they achieve four main goals:
Increase the number of stem cells in an area – Relatively few stem cells normally exist in the body. Regenerative therapy greatly increases the number of available stem cells, and they can be infused where they are needed (e.g., near a degenerating spinal disc, into an arthritic knee, etc.)
Tilt the number of stem cells from older to newer stem cells – The older we get, the older our stem cells become. When stem cells are obtained from umbilical cord tissue, for example, they are virtually brand new and have maximal regenerative capacity.
Infused stem cells become new, differentiated cells to replace old, dead or damaged cells – Stem cells can become new, differentiated cells depending on where they find themselves. Stem cells that reach the liver can become new liver cells, for example. This effect can be especially useful for treating tissue injury or degeneration.
Regenerative Therapy is remarkably safe. There are over 700 completed Phase 1 trials of Regenerative Therapy. (Phase 1 trials that directly assess patient safety) The rate of serious adverse events during these trials is extremely low. While any injected treatment comes with a certain amount of risk, Regenerative Therapy is quite safe relative to other infused treatments.
Faster recovery from surgery or injury
Freedom from surgery
(or have been able to delay surgical treatment)
Enhanced healing and tissue regeneration
Very low occurrence of adverse events, especially compared to invasive treatments
Regenerative therapy has considerable potential to treat arthritis, a condition that has very few effective non-surgical treatments. Regenerative Therapy has the potential to rebuild cartilage and joint surfaces destroyed by arthritis, reduce the chronic inflammation that makes arthritis painful and destructive, and provide cellular signals (i.e., cytokines) to slow the progression of arthritis..
Many patients choose regenerative therapy as an alternative to surgery like artificial disc replacement for several reasons. First, Regenerative Therapy is far less invasive than surgery. An injection into a knee joint is certainly less invasive than a knee replacement. Likewise, there is no downtime or recovery time after Regenerative Therapy. Recovery after knee, hip, or spine surgery may take weeks to months. In many cases, Regenerative Therapy is less expensive than surgery. Lastly, patients can still opt for surgery if Regenerative Therapy fails to relieve their symptoms to their satisfaction.
As regenerative therapy specialists with years of experience, we have heard the following questions about Regenerative Therapy most frequently. These are our answers.
The cost of Regenerative Therapy can vary widely depending on the number of infusions, the infusion location, and the disease being treated. The cost of regenerative therapy also depends on whether the cells come from donor tissue or are prepared from the patient’s own cells. Contact your doctor to discuss the cost of the procedure and insurance coverage.
Regenerative therapy is the infusion of stem cells into the body to support, repair, and replace the body’s own cells that have been injured or have deteriorated due to age or disease.
Regenerative therapy does work for many people and for many conditions, but each patient needs to determine if regenerative therapy will meet their specific needs. Talk to your provider about your condition and your goals for recovery and health.
No, unfortunately. Neither Medicare nor private insurers cover the cost of regenerative therapy.
The success rate for regenerative therapy varies depending on the type of stem cell used, the way in which the stem cells are infused, the condition that is being treated, and how success is defined. Success rates range from 20% to 95% depending on these factors.
Since stem cells generally need to reach the area of the body being treated, stem cells are often infused in or around the target area. For example, knee arthritis may be treated by infusing stem cells through a needle into the knee joint. Regenerative therapy may also be performed by infusing stem cells into a vein (i.e., intravenously). The procedure usually lasts 1 to 2 hours and patients can to return to their normal activities immediately.
Just as it takes a long time for a skin wound or a broken bone to heal, so too does it take time for regenerative therapy to work. If patients see progress from regenerative therapy, it usually occurs within 4 to 8 weeks after treatment.
While many patients benefit from regenerative therapy, some do not. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine who will and who will not benefit from regenerative therapy before treatment. That said, the chance of regenerative therapy success increases when high quality stem cells are used, and they are administered by trained doctors.
Unfortunately, many “stem cell clinics” have popped up over the past several years that will perform injections they call stem cell therapy. Prospective patients should choose their provider carefully. The critical steps to finding a regenerative stem cell therapy specialist who is safe, experienced, and reputable are:
The provider should be a physician/surgeon. That means they have an MD or DO after their name.
The provider should be board-certified in the field that treats the condition. For example, heart problems should be treated by a board certified cardiologist; joint, bone, nerve and spine problems should be treated by a board-certified neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon; etc. Stem cell therapy is only one possible treatment, so the physician should have deep knowledge of all possible treatments for your condition.
The provider should have experience administering stem cells. Ask your prospective stem cell provider approximately how many stem cell infusions they have performed and what is their success rate in your specific condition. Also ask about their complication rate. Obviously, the success rate should be relatively high, and the complication rate should be relatively low.
The provider should use high quality stem cells. While embryonic stem cells have the highest potential to treat various illnesses, they are highly controversial and not widely available. Mesenchymal stem cells obtained from the umbilical cord Wharton’s Jelly are often the next best thing for most conditions.
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