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5 Stem Cell Myths Debunked: 2023 Update

It can be challenging to determine fact from fiction when it comes to researching stem cells. This article aims to debunk five common myths about stem cells.

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Stem cells, often misconceived as a universal remedy, have specific yet promising applications in medical treatments.

This article demystifies common stem cell myths, highlighting their true potential and limitations in treating various diseases.



Myth #1: Stem cells can cure almost every ailment

The misrepresentation of the therapeutic abilities of stem cells is quite common. Stem cells are not a “magic cure” for all diseases.  The long term therapeutic properties of stem cells are still being investigated, and although there have been many studies completed showing their positive effects on patients, results cannot always be guaranteed.  However, stem cell therapy is a viable treatment option for autoimmune conditions, chronic inflammation and a handful of other ailments.  

Pictured: Medical team led by Louis A. Cona, MD performing stem cell therapy for COPD


Myth #2: The United States offers the highest quality treatments

Stem cell treatments in the United States face strict regulations, limiting their scope and availability. This has led to an increase in medical tourism as patients seek treatments abroad, where regulations may be less stringent. International clinics are advancing in stem cell research, offering quality and innovative therapies.

Key Points:

  • Stringent U.S. Regulations: The U.S. has tight laws on stem cell therapies, restricting their use and the number of cells administered.
  • Rise in Medical Tourism: Due to these restrictions, patients often turn to clinics in countries with looser regulations.
  • International Advancements: Clinics abroad are pushing forward with stem cell research and therapy protocols.
  • Ethical Sourcing and Certification: Facilities like DVC Stem in the Cayman Islands ensure ethical sourcing of cells and adhere to rigorous standards.

Myth #3: All Stem cells are sourced unethically

Stem cell therapy has evolved beyond the use of embryonic stem cells, which were controversial due to their derivation from human embryos. Today, clinical applications primarily use stem cells from bone marrow, adipose tissue, or umbilical cords, avoiding ethical concerns. For instance, DVC Stem, strictly uses ethically sourced, thoroughly tested umbilical cords for stem cell infusions.

Key Points:

  • Shift from Embryonic to Other Sources: Modern stem cell therapy mainly uses non-embryonic sources like bone marrow, adipose tissue, or umbilical cord tissue.
  • Ethical Considerations: This shift addresses ethical concerns associated with embryonic stem cells.
  • Rigorous Testing and Sourcing: GMP cell manufacturing facilities adhere to stringent standards for sourcing and testing, ensuring ethical compliance and safety in stem cell treatments.

Pictured: Umbilical cord tissue, also known as Wharton's Jelly


Why use cord tissue-derived stem cells?

While other familiar sources of stem cells are fat tissue or bone marrow taken from the patient directly, there are many benefits to using cord tissue. Cord tissue-derived cells are necessarily “new,” in their most primal state, free from the effects of ageing or disease. Stem cells age as we age and cells taken from a patient are affected by the condition of the patient at the time of extraction. 

There is even evidence to suggest that cells extracted from patients with existing medical conditions risk reintroducing these symptoms when used in treatments. Cord tissue-derived stem cells eliminate that risk. Additionally, they are readily available, in high supply, and are minimally invasive to the patient, without the need for any extractions, free from immune rejection, and have zero risks of transferring viruses or other communicable diseases.


Myth #4: Umbilical cord tissue-derived stem cells do not contain “live cells”

Contrary to some misconceptions, umbilical cord tissue is a rich source of live, undifferentiated stem cells with significant healing potential. These cells, found in Wharton’s Jelly of the cord, can be expanded in culture to produce billions of cells for treatment. This expansion process and rigorous viability testing ensure that the cells are active and effective for therapeutic use.

Key Points:

  • Misconception about Umbilical Cord Cells: There's a common but incorrect belief that umbilical cord tissue doesn't contain live cells, unlike bone marrow and adipose tissue.
  • High Potential of Umbilical Cord Stem Cells: Umbilical cord tissue contains millions of live, undifferentiated stem cells with immense healing potential.
  • Cell Expansion and Viability Testing: These stem cells can be cultured and expanded significantly, with thorough testing to ensure their viability for effective treatments.

Lab quality control is essential.

Lab quality control is essential in stem cell therapy. DVC Stem partners with an FDA-compliant GMP cell manufacturing facility, which conducts thorough testing of cells for potency, blood-borne pathogens, contaminants, fungal presence, cellular ATP levels, and growth rates.

The production process occurs in a certified sterile clean room, adhering to FDA, ISO, and CLIA regulations. Once prepared, the cells are preserved in sub-zero cryo-storage and shipped to DVC Stem for immediate patient treatment.

The cells undergo additional viability testing before use to maintain high quality assurance standards. This meticulous process ensures cell viability is preserved from the lab to the clinic.


Myth #5: Stem Cells Will Not Cross the Blood-brain Barrier

Stem cells, measuring only 10-15 microns, are small enough to traverse the blood-brain barrier, a crucial feature for treatments involving the central nervous system. This ability has been instrumental in showing promising results in patients with Multiple Sclerosis, improving strength, coordination, motor skills, and mobility.

Stem cells target areas of inflammation or damage, including nerves, to repair or regenerate them, suggesting their potential in regenerating neurons within the central nervous system.

Key Points:

  • Size of Stem Cells: Stem cells are smaller than white blood cells, allowing them to pass through the blood-brain barrier.
  • Impact on Multiple Sclerosis: Clinical studies show significant improvements in patients with Multiple Sclerosis, indicating the cells' ability to access and repair the nervous system.
  • Targeting Damage and Inflammation: Stem cells naturally home in on areas of damage or inflammation, including nerve tissues, aiding in repair and regeneration.

Myth #6: Stem Cell Research is Illegal

Stem cell research is subject to diverse regulations worldwide. While some countries permit research on embryonic stem cells, others impose restrictions on it. Generally, research involving adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) faces fewer constraints.

Key Points:

  • Varied Global Regulations: Regulations on stem cell research differ significantly across countries.
  • Embryonic vs. Adult Stem Cells: Some nations allow embryonic stem cell research; others limit it.
  • Less Restriction on Adult Stem Cells and iPSCs: Research involving adult stem cells and iPSCs generally faces less regulatory hurdles.

Why is Stem Cell Research Unethical?

Stem cell research is not unethical. The primary ethical concern surrounding stem cell research arises from the use of embryonic stem cells.

These cells are harvested from embryos, a process that requires the destruction of the embryo. This is considered immoral and unethical by some, as they view the embryo as a potential human life. This perspective has led to significant controversy and debate over the ethics of embryonic stem cell research


In Conclusion

Stem cell therapy, a field both promising and evolving, navigates a complex landscape of scientific advancement and ethical considerations. While misconceptions and regulatory challenges persist, the potential of stem cells in treating a range of ailments remains significant.

From debunking myths about their sources and capabilities to understanding global regulations and ethical sourcing, it's clear that stem cell research and therapy are moving towards more ethical, safe, and effective frontiers.

As we continue to witness advancements in this field, it is crucial to remain informed and discerning, acknowledging both the limitations and the remarkable potential that stem cells hold for the future of medicine.


References:

(1) Holland, S., Lebacqz, K. and Zoloth, L. (2019). The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate. [online] Google Books. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=R1wV2pNTRfwC&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=embryonic+stem+cells+controversy&ots=7IiaxVP7BG&sig=cBNPBWm8ICm73ijbdPSTt1UItdM#v=onepage&q=embryonic%20stem%20cells%20controversy&f=false [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

(2) Riordan, N. H., Morales, I., Fernández, G., Allen, N., Fearnot, N. E., Leckrone, M. E., … Paz Rodriguez, J. (2018, 9 Mar). Clinical feasibility of umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29523171.

(3) Levy, Michael L., et al. “Phase I/II Study of Safety and Preliminary Efficacy of Intravenous Allogeneic Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Chronic Stroke.” Stroke, vol. 50, no. 10, 2019, pp. 2835–2841., DOI:10.1161/strokeaha.119.026318.

(4) Shroff, Geeta. “Transplantation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease.” The American Journal of Case Reports, International Scientific Literature, Inc., 13 Dec. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5156555/.

(5) Venkataramana, N. K., Kumar, S. K. V., Balaraju, S., Radhakrishnan, R. C., Bansal, A., Dixit, A., … Totey, S. M. (2009, 6 Aug). Open-labelled study of unilateral autologous bone-marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in Parkinson’s disease. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1931524409002205#!

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