Louis A. Cona M.D.
Is stem cell therapy able to cure diseases? Here we dive into the subject.
There are new advances in stem cell technology everyday. With that, there is constant press about what researchers are doing with stem cells, and wide claims made about their effectiveness. There have been claims made about their use in orthopaedics, for the treatment of degenerative diseases, and even regrowing tissue and bone. This has led many to believe that stem cells are somewhat of a miracle treatment, or a cure-all to any condition. In reality, stem cells are still being investigated, and although there have been many studies done showing their positive effects on patients, results cannot be guaranteed. In order to make an informed decision on whether to seek stem cell treatment, it is important to understand how they work, and what effect they have on the body.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells. They are essentially blank and have the unique ability to become different types of cells when needed in the body. They were initially found in human embryos, but have now been found in umbilical cord tissue and blood, fat deposits, bone marrow, and even in molar teeth. Everyone is born with a supply of stem cells that are used and age as we grow older. Additionally, these cells lose their effectiveness over time, with stem cells harvested from donated cord tissue being vastly more powerful than those extracted from an elderly patient. Through medical advances and research, physicians have uncovered the ability to attract stem cells, expand them to far greater numbers, and transplant them into patients in need. Additionally, the cells are not rejected by the immune system, making the treatment relatively harmless.
By transplanting young stem cells into the body, a patient’s overall stem cell count is vastly increased. Through additional methods pre- and post-treatment, these cells can be activated and enhanced. They then travel around the body, seeking inflammation and damaged tissue. Since most disease is largely caused from inflammation in one form or another, the healing properties of stem cells usually decrease symptoms, and can increase the quality of life for patients. For example, MS patients have reported increased mobility and coordination for periods of years after treatment.
However, stem cells are used up over time, and treatments do not last forever. Patients will need repeat treatments over the course of years to keep stem cell numbers in the body high. Additionally, virtually all conditions are treated with the same type and number of mesenchymal stem cells. There aren’t specialized treatments for varying diseases, but rather the treatment is effective on multiple conditions overall. For these reasons, treatment results can vary between patients. The stem cells will be effective in the body, but the amount of inflammation they reduce, and what they heal in the body is completely dependent on the condition of the patient beforehand, their age, fitness level, and severity of the condition being treated. It is impossible to say what the exact results will be, with patients largely relying on anecdotal evidence to seek treatment themselves.
Yes and no. They are definitively effective and active in the body. Will they rid the body of disease completely? No, but they have the great potential to reduce symptoms to very low levels and increase the quality of life for patients. It is up to the individual to determine if that outcome is worth the cost of this relatively new and cutting-edge therapy of the future.
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