Stem Cell Therapy - An Overview

Louis A. Cona, MD
Sep 5, 2022
5
min read

Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine designed to repair damaged cells within the body by reducing inflammation and modulating the immune system. This phenomenon makes stem cell therapy a viable treatment option for a variety of medical conditions.

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What is stem cell therapy?

Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine designed to repair damaged cells within the body by reducing inflammation and modulating the immune system. This phenomenon makes stem cell therapy a viable treatment option for a variety of medical conditions.  Stem cell therapies have been used to treat autoimmune, inflammatory, neurological, orthopedic conditions and traumatic injuries with studies conducted on use for Crohn's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, COPD, Parkinson's, ALS, Stroke recovery and more.

While stem cell therapy does not necessarily provide a cure for these conditions, the premise is to allow the body to heal itself well enough to mitigate the symptoms of the conditions for long periods. In many cases, this effect can substantially increase the quality of life for patients as well as delay disease progression.


Where do mesenchymal stem cells come from?

Mesenchymal Stem cells can be obtained from many different sources. These include adipose (fat tissue), umbilical cord tissue, placental tissue, umbilical cord blood, or bone marrow. You can learn more about specific sources of mesenchymal stem cells here.

Types of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) and their Mechanisms of Action


How are stem cells administered?

Stem cells can be administered in a variety of fashions; IV Stem Cell Therapy (Intravenous administration), Intrathecal (directly into the spinal canal), Site injections into problem areas (Knee, hips, hands, etc.). The method of administration can have different effects on a patient and should be thoroughly considered prior to selecting a route.

How does stem cell therapy work?

Mesenchymal stem cells utilize their self-renewal, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, signaling, and differentiation properties to influence positive change within the body.  Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) also have the capacity to self-renew by dividing and developing into multiple specialized cell types present in a specific tissue or organ.  Mesenchymal stem cells are adult stem cells, meaning they present no ethical concerns, MSCs are not sourced from embryonic material.

"The characteristics of presenting no major ethical concerns, having low immunogenicity, and possessing immune modulation functions make MSCs promising candidates for stem cell therapies." - Jiang, et al. (10)

Stem cells target inflammation

The therapeutic uses of stem cells as a potential therapy for a variety of diseases has been immensely explored, the number of clinical trials conducted with Mesenchymal Stem Cells has increased exponentially over the past few years. (4)

Stem cells have a unique, intrinsic property that attracts them to inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that stem cells can regenerate damaged or diseased tissues, reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system promoting better health and quality of life. Mesenchymal stem cells do this by influencing tissue repair via paracrine effects (cell signaling in order to change the behaviour of existing cells) or direct cell-to-cell contact.

"MSCs are able to migrate and seed specifically into damaged tissue sites, where they can differentiate into functional cells to replace damaged or diseased cells" (4)

Diagram showing the processes of MSCs and how they reduce inflammation within the body.
Pictured: Diagram showing the processes of MSCs and how they reduce inflammation within the body.

A recent study conducted by Mao F. et al. found that Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) facilitate tissue regeneration through mechanisms involving self-renewal and differentiation, supporting angiogenesis and tissue cell survival, and limiting inflammation." (3)


What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the body's raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are created. Mesenchymal stem cells are adult stem cells that have self-renewal, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, signaling, and differentiation properties.  Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), self renewal capacity is characterized by their ability to divide and develop into multiple specialized cell types present in a specific tissue or organ.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be sourced from a variety of tissue including adipose tissue (fat), bone marrow, umbilical cord tissue, blood, liver, dental pulp, and skin.  

MSCs are widely used in the treatment of various diseases due to their self-renewable, differentiation, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties. In-vitro (performed in a laboratory setting) and in-vivo (taking place in a living organism) studies have supported the understanding mechanisms, safety, and efficacy of MSC therapy in clinical applications. (3)

According to Biehl et al., “The two defining characteristics of a stem cell are perpetual self-renewal and the ability to differentiate into a specialized adult cell type.” (1)

Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to turn into new types of cells

A stem cell can become many different cell types in the human body. The process of stem cells maturing into new types of cells is called differentiation. This process is the most critical aspect of stem cell therapies, as the cells become the type of cells required for one’s body to heal. 

Stem cells are also self-replicating; this ability allows the cells to multiply into identical copies of themselves.  For example, if stem cells were used to treat a neurological injury, cells administered during treatment could become nerve cells, and then replicate to create exponentially more nerve cells on their own. This ability to duplicate drastically increases the effectiveness of stem cell treatments over time.

Differentiation (becoming new types of cells)

Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent stem cells that can self-renew and differentiate into different cell types. In other words, mesenchymal stem cells can become a variety of different cell types including; adipose tissue, cartilage, muscle, tendon/ligament, bone, neurons, and hepatocytes (8)

According to a 2016 study conducted by Almalki et al. -  "The differentiation of MSCs into specific mature cell types is controlled by various cytokines, growth factors, extracellular matrix molecules, and transcription factors (TFs). (8)

Mesenchymal stem cells contribute to tissue regeneration and differentiation, including the maintenance of homeostasis and function, adaptation to altered metabolic or environmental requirements, and the repair of damaged tissue. (9)


Stem cells age as we do

Stem cell numbers and effectiveness begin to decrease as we age exponentially. For example, stem cells from a person in their twenties are not nearly as high quality as the brand new cells sourced from umbilical cord tissue.

How is stem cell therapy utilized?

Stem cell therapy may be able to treat orthopaedic, inflammatory, autoimmune and neurological conditions, with studies conducted on use for Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, COPD, Parkinson’s, ALS, Stroke recovery and more.

Stem cells do not necessarily provide a cure for these conditions. The premise is allowing the body to heal itself well enough to mitigate the symptoms of the conditions for long periods. In many cases, this alone allows for a substantial increase in quality of life for patients.


Will the body reject stem cells?

Cord-tissue derived mesenchymal stem cells do not have any risk of rejection within the body. They are youthful, immune-privileged, undifferentiated cells that have no rejection in the body because they have yet to be “claimed.” 

There are no blood products associated with them either, removing the need for a donor match; they are universally accepted. These cells seek out inflammation in the body and begin to heal the damaged tissue. Mesenchymal cord tissue-derived stem cells have been administered thousands of times at clinics around the world without instances of rejection (graft vs. host disease).


Why use umbilical cord tissue?

Cord tissue is rich in mesenchymal stem cells, potentially used to help heal, regenerate & treat a variety of conditions. Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) derived from umbilical cord tissue have shown the ability to avoid a negative response from a person’s immune system, allowing the cells to be transplanted in a wide range of people without fear of rejection. These transplants may have the ability to vastly increase the body’s natural healing abilities and have robust anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive responses. For an in depth comparison about different cell types please review this article.

Umbilical Cord Tissue-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells (UC-MSCs)

UC-MSCs can be sourced from a variety of areas including Wharton’s Jelly, cord lining, and peri-vascular region of the umbilical cord. As a commonly discarded tissue, the umbilical cord contains a rich source of mesenchymal stromal cells, which are therefore obtained non-invasively (5).

"UC-MSCs are the most primitive type of MSCs, shown by their higher expression of Oct4, Nanog, Sox2, and KLF4 markers." (6)

Umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to differentiate into different cell types and have the greatest proliferation rate of the three mentioned types of stem cells (adipose, bone marrow, cord tissue). (7)

Similar to adipose tissue and bone marrow-derived MSCs, UC-MSCs are known to secrete growth factors, cytokines, and chemokines, improving different cell repair mechanisms. (4). These functions all assist the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of MSCs.

Non-invasive cell product

The harvesting procedure of UC-MSCs is non-invasive as it does not require extraction from the patient.  The MSCs are taken directly from an area of an ethically donated human umbilical cord.

UC-MSCs also have a high proliferative potential than BMSCs and ASCs meaning they expand in vitro more effectively allowing for greater efficiency when obtaining higher cell numbers. (15)

Studies have found that UC-MSCs genes related to cell proliferation (EGF), PI3K-NFkB signaling pathway (TEK), and neurogenesis (RTN1, NPPB, and NRP2) were upregulated (increase in the number of receptors) in UC-MSCs compared to in BM-MSCs. (15)

Umbilical cord tissue diagram showing where stem cells originate
Pictured: Umbilical cord tissue diagram showing where stem cells originate


Conclusion

Previously untreatable neurodegenerative diseases may now possibly become treatable with advanced stem cell therapies.  Regenerative medicine and its benefits may be the key to prolonging human life.

To learn more about the use of mesenchymal stem cells in a clinical setting visit our protocol page.  DVC Stem provides an expanded stem cell treatment that utilizes umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UC-MSCs) sourced from an FDA-compliant lab in the United States.  DVC Stem offers treatment for a variety of conditions including Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's Disease, Parkinson's, and other autoimmune conditions.

References:

(1) Biehl, Jesse K, and Brenda Russell. “Introduction to Stem Cell Therapy.” The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4104807/.

(2) Zakrzewski, Wojciech, et al. “Stem Cells: Past, Present, and Future.” Stem Cell Research & Therapy, BioMed Central, 26 Feb. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6390367/.

(3) Watt, Fiona M, and Ryan R Driskell. “The Therapeutic Potential of Stem Cells.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, The Royal Society, 12 Jan. 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842697/.

(4) Mao, Fei, et al. “Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Their Therapeutic Applications in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Oncotarget, Impact Journals LLC, 6 June 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28402942.

(5) Walker, J. T., Keating, A., & Davies, J. E. (2020, May 28). Stem Cells: Umbilical Cord/Wharton’s Jelly Derived. Cell Engineering and Regeneration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7992171/.

(6) Torres Crigna, A., Daniele, C., Gamez, C., Medina Balbuena, S., Pastene, D. O., Nardozi, D., … Bieback, K. (2018, June 15). Stem/Stromal Cells for Treatment of Kidney Injuries With Focus on Preclinical Models. Frontiers in medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6013716/.

(7) Mazini, L., Rochette, L., Amine, M., & Malka, G. (2019, May 22). Regenerative Capacity of Adipose-Derived Stem Cells (ADSCs), Comparison with Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs). International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566837/.

(8) Almalki, S. G., & Agrawal, D. K. (2016). Key transcription factors in the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells. Differentiation; research in biological diversity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010472/.

(9) Grafe, I., Alexander, S., Peterson, J. R., Snider, T. N., Levi, B., Lee, B., & Mishina, Y. (2018, May 1). TGF-β Family Signaling in Mesenchymal Differentiation. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in biology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932590/.

(10) Jiang, W., & Xu, J. (2020, January). Immune modulation by mesenchymal stem cells. Cell proliferation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6985662/.

About the author

Louis A. Cona, MD

Medical Director | DVC Stem

Dr. Cona has been performing stem cell therapy for over 10 years. He is a member of the World Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (WAAAM). He is also a recognized member of the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council (UK), the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is the Medical Director for DVC Stem a world-renowned stem cell therapy clinic located in Grand Cayman.

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