The Science of Stem Cell Therapy
Back in the 1950s experiments with bone marrow revealed the existence of specialized cells that were given the name stem cells. They could literally “stem” regeneration of other damaged cells in the body by drawing on their unique capacity to create (or re-create) many of the specialized cell lines in the body.
For more than three decades stem cells derived from bone marrow have been used as additional treatment for certain types of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma. Within the bone marrow all blood cell types are produced – red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and stem cells. In cancer treatment, certain chemotherapy agents can kill off the bone marrow of the patient, so stem cell transplants are then used in this application to restore the bone marrow.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), the primary type of stem cell derived from the bone marrow, have four very distinct fates:
- Self-renewal – can divide and create additional stem cells
- Differentiation– the ability to become a new cell to replace and injured or damaged cell
- Apoptosis– the cell ages and eventually dies
- Senescence– the cell can remain dormant, waiting to be called upon to differentiate
Once it was known that MSCs from the bone marrow had potent regenerative potential when transplanted, scientists quickly figured out that cells from an embryo may possibly hold even greater potential.
It was thought because they were the very cells from which all cells are generated, as well as being younger and also un-differentiated, that they could have an even more powerful effect than MSCs.
From there, research took off in multiple directions – embryonic, placental, umbilical cord blood – to determine if there was a “super cell” line that held the proverbial fountain of youth for reversing chronic disease and degeneration.
Could we clutch patients from the jaws of other diseases or degenerative conditions that had stymied clinicians and researchers?
What have scientists determined?
Easy questions, but there are so many layers to answering these questions. There should be a simple straight-forward answer to this based on the published research, however nothing is straight-forward when you head down the rabbit hole and attempt to synthesize hundreds of research articles and decades of research.
If you have attempted to educate yourself via an internet search or two, then undoubtedly you have encountered confusing and conflicting claims from legitimate research – and from less than legitimate sources.
Here is how I will attempt to distill down the data for you to digest:
- Provide you with enough of the basic science to make sure we are all speaking the same language regarding the cell types and treatments available. (Some company representatives selling “stem cell” products may want to pay attention to this section)
- Summarize the available research on FDA-regulated, or otherwise approved, treatments in the United States. We will not bring cell cultured or growth-factor manipulated stem cell treatments into the discussion.
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