Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that utilizes the body’s natural healing mechanism to treat various conditions.
Stem cells are being used in regenerative medicine to renew and repair diseased or damaged tissues, and have shown promising results in treatments of various orthopedic, cardiovascular, neuromuscular and autoimmune conditions.
Stem cells are present in all of us acting like a repair system for the body. However, with increased age sometimes the necessary amounts of stem cells are not present at the injured area. The goal of stem cell therapy is to amplify the natural repair system of the patient’s body by increasing the numbers of stem cells at injury sites.
Types of Stem Cells
There are two major types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells derived from human embryos. They are pluripotent, which means they have the ability to develop into almost any of the various cell types of the body.
As the embryo develops and forms a baby, stem cells are distributed throughout the body where they reside in specific pockets of each tissue, such as the bone marrow and blood. As we age, these cells function to renew old and worn out tissue and cells. These are called adult stem cells or somatic stem cells. Like embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells can also turn into more than one cell type, but their differentiation is restricted to a limited number of cell types.
Amnion is the sac which encloses a developing fetus. Amniotic fluid is the protective media which surrounds it. These have been found to be an excellent source of stem cells or precursor cells that have the ability to multiply and transform into cells of any tissue. Amnion and amniotic fluid may be obtained from a donor during gestation or at birth and developed into a biologic therapy agent in liquid form which may be cryopreserved for later use. Additionally, it contains growth factors, proteins and other extracellular components which facilitate the healing process, reduce inflammation and act as a scaffold for new tissue growth. Liquid amnion is used to treat wounds, soft tissue defects and joint conditions. It may be applied topically or injected into deep tissues.
Use of Stem Cells in Orthopedics
The unique self-regeneration and differentiating ability of embryonic stem cells can be used in regenerative medicine. These stem cells can be derived from eggs collected during IVF procedures with informed consent from the patient. However, many questions have been raised on the ethics of destroying a potential human life for the treatment of another.
Adult stem cells can be harvested from many areas in the body. These include adipose tissue (fat), bone marrow and peripheral blood. The mesenchymal stem cell is the most commonly harvested. These have the ability to turn into cells that form the musculoskeletal system such as tendons, ligaments, and articular cartilage. To obtain stem cells from the bone marrow, a needle is inserted into the iliac crest of the pelvic bone to extract the stem cells.
Currently, stem cell therapy is used to treat various degenerative conditions of the shoulder, knees, hips, and spine. Stem cells are also being used in the treatment of various soft tissue (muscle, ligaments and tendons) as well as bone-related injuries.
Who is a Good Candidate for a Stem Cell Procedure?
You may be a good candidate for stem cell therapy if you have been suffering from joint pain and want to improve your quality of life while avoiding complications related to invasive surgical procedures.
Preparing for the Procedure
Stem cell procedure
The procedure begins with your doctor extracting stem cells from your own bone marrow. Bone marrow is usually aspirated from your hip region. Your doctor will first clean and numb your hip area. A needle is then introduced into an area of your pelvic bone known as the iliac crest. Bone marrow is then aspirated using a special syringe and the sample obtained is sent to the laboratory. In the laboratory, the aspirate is spun in a machine for 10 to 15 minutes and a concentrated stem cell sample is separated.
Your doctor then cleans and numbs your affected area to be treated and then, under the guidance of special x-rays, injects the stem cells into the diseased region. The whole procedure usually takes less than one hour and you may return home on the same day of the procedure.
Risks and complications
Stem cell therapy is generally considered a safe procedure with minimal complications, however, as with any medical procedure, complications can occur.
Some risks factors related to stem cell therapy include infection as bacteria, viruses or other pathogens that can cause disease may be introduced during the preparation process.
The procedure to either remove or inject the cells also has the risk of introducing an infection to the damaged tissue into which they are injected. Rarely, an immune reaction may occur from injected stem cells.