Are Stem Cells Effective and How Dangerous Are Stem Cells?
My Background and Interest in Stem Cells
I have a number of maladies that I have acquired in my 67 years. The first one I can think of was when I was about 12 years old and I completely ruptured my posterior cruciate ligament in my right knee. I did not know this until I was 44, but that is another story.
The second significant injury I incurred was a concussion when I was 15 year. I was a freshman in high school, playing American Football. Because I was small and did not carry much weight (5 ft, 2 in. 105 lbs,) I had to try to do something special to stand out. One practice drill, where all of us freshmen were lined up into two lines, the boy at the end of each line would run alongside the outside of the line and come together at the front line, trying to block each out of the way. Well, I ran right into a very strong man (Romero Ramirez) and he knocked me flat. No, I do not hold this against him, he was a great classmate, but after showering and while walking home, I tried to recall the past two hours and could not. This worried me and my mother. With all the information we have now, I know it was a concussion.
Fast forward from here, past all my college drinking binges, attending rock concerts, standing in front of the loudspeakers and having fun, to my life in the Colorado Rockies. I did not know how to ski but was determined to learn how. Well, you know all about it. You fall and get back up, dust off the snow and the cobwebs, then go and do it again. By the end of the first year of having a season ski pass, I had improved from a bare-bones green skier to attempting to navigate down a double black diamond run. I did make it down alive, but it was a challenge. The next year, I improved and then some. I was doing Black Diamonds routinely and really enjoying life. But I would still catch an edge and hit the ground with my head. These years lead to what I will call mini-concussions. Not serious enough to warrant concern (at that time), but definitely repeated blows to the head. Add to that, the jarring nature of skiing down a slope that did not have moguls but had VW sized mounds. My knees were taking a beating as well (remember my missing posterior cruciate ligament?).
Well, a few years later I got a real job, working at Martin Marietta in their environmental department. I was working with hazardous wastes, moving around thousand pound barrels and working in hazardous environments. When warranted, I wore the correct equipment to protect myself but still, I was subjecting my body to some serious stuff. One special event was when I went back to my favorite skiing area with a friend and was trying to show off. I caught an edge and took a big tumble hitting my left shoulder hard enough to temporarily displace my left rotator cuff.
A year after my brother died and left me with a little money, I decided to go back to college and finally finish my degree. In the summer of 1994, I tried rollerblading. Boy, was that a bad idea. I took a tumble and tore (level II tear) the medial collateral ligament (of course, on the right knee.)
After, college and having a steady and financially friendly job, I bought a motorcycle. (Can you hear the drum roll yet?) One mechanic of mine told me there are two kinds of riders, the ones who have dropped their motorcycle and those who will. Well, I dropped my bike and took a little tumble. I did not get seriously injured but I think this injury, slight as it was, healed by fusing two of my vertebra.
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate and had prostate surgery, completely removing it. This has led to some very interesting and not nice consequences which I and my life partner have accepted.
- A missing PCL and a torn MCL ligament in my right knee (no surgeries).
- Symptoms of brain trauma resulting from one concussion and repeated blows to the head, along with the expected memory loss and occasional serious depression and odd suicidal thoughts.
- Aches in my wrist, carpal tunnel due to working on a keyboard throughout my carrier.
- Back pains with at least one fussed disk.
- A rotator cuff injury that still nags me.
- Significant hearing loss (not enough to require a hearing aid but significant loss of the higher octaves.)
- And some sexual dysfunction due to my prostate surgery.
I had always thought that I had to suffer through my conditions but I kept up to date on all the developments hoping for something to come along. Of course, I had heard about stem cells but that was so far off and when it first came out, it was embryonic tissue and fraught with societal and ethical issues.
New Information that Gives Me Encouragement
Until recently, stem cell treatment was only allowed by the FDA if it was harvested from the patient’s own body, underwent no advanced processing and was reinjected back into the patient’s body in the same day. Otherwise, it would be considered a drug and would have to undergo significant regulatory review. Advanced processing does not include centrifugation, which separates tissue cells by weight, but would include growing more cells using the same tissues harvested and freezing the resultant tissue for use at a later date. This kind of procedure can only be performed in the U.S. under the auspices of a research study. However, the State of Texas has recently passed a law that will allow advanced processing if the patient is in chronic pain or is terminal.
Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a very informative docu-series on adult stem cells. This series is currently no longer running but I was able to find the first episode at “The Healing Miracle – The Truth About Stem Cells”. Other episodes are available on Youtube so you may be able to watch the full series. This informative and very encouraging docu-series was well worth my time.
I also found a presentation by an individual who had suffered for years from Osteoarthritis.
What are adult stem cells
Adult stem cells are cells that are either taken from your own body or are harvested from the umbilical cord and/or placenta of live cesarean section births. The stem cells taken from the placenta and umbilical cord are called post-natal stem cells. These do not have the stigma of embryonic tissue harvesting or the danger of using immature stem cells that can cause all sorts of strange growth patterns.
Stem cells include hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are found in bone marrow, mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) which can be found in bone marrow, soft tissues including body fat (adipose tissue), post-natal tissue, amniotic fluid, blood, molar cells (teeth), and peripheral blood.
There are two other types of fluids that are used to support stem cell treatments and these are Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) and Amniotic fluid. Platelets are collected from a person’s blood supply. A small fraction of that blood includes cells called platelets. These cells are collected and then, either reinjected into the target repair site or added to the stem cells to build a more powerful treatment. Amniotic fluids are a great source of growth factors, and can greatly improve the healing and repair of soft tissue.
All the cells in our body age with time. This is expressed as a shortening of the end of chromosomes, called telomeres. These ends degrade but our body has an enzyme called telomerase which repairs our telomeres. As you age, your body does not repair the telomeres as well as when you are young.
Using our own stem cells
If we use our own stem cells, we reuse cells with telomeres as short as the rest of the cells in our body. And as we age, our stem cells diminish in number and strength. But if we use post-natal stem cells, those taken from the placenta or the umbilical cord, we are introducing cells into our body that have very healthy telomeres.
MSC cells are often harvested from the fat tissue because of the high density of stem cells in the tissue. Bone marrow has a significantly lower concentration of MSC cells. MSCs are harvested in a liposuction-like process and are used primarily for soft tissue repair. This can include the repair of bone, muscle, tendons, and even organs. Hematopoietic stem cells(HSC) are harvested from the bone marrow and generally used for blood-borne diseases or other viral issues.
In both cases, the tissue harvested is centrifuged to separate the primary tissue from the stem cells then it can, 1) be reinjected into the body near the target area or 2) be injected intravenously. There is no surgery (other than the harvesting process) and no hospitalization. Usually, the patient can leave within a few hours after arriving.
A must see documentary video series
The Healing Miracle – The Truth About Stem Cells, includes conversations with many doctors with comments about the laws in the U.S. and discussions with patients before and after undergoing stem cell therapy. I found out that stem cells can be used to treat chronic knee pain, often with complete function returning after only one injection. Stem cells have been used to successfully repair torn muscles, cartilage damage, heart muscle damage, lung tissue damage, kidney tissue and even liver tissue damage. This series had interviews with former American (and Canadian) Football players who have lived for years in pain due to their professional career. After one treatment, these individuals were able to walk normally within a few weeks to a month. Each one stated that they have told all their professional friends to “check out” this treatment before ever considering a knee replacement or surgery for a tendon tear.
You may think this is incredible and doubt the facts but the series documented tissue repair of a heart attack patient and complete recovery of a number of patients suffering from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). Now, this is very significant to me as my brother died of a heart attack 7 years after having quadruple bypass surgery and my mother lived 10 years on oxygen because of COPD. What is even more amazing is the series also documented one patient who recovered from cancer.
While watching in “The Healing Miracle – The Truth About Stem Cells”, I made notes of the doctors and some of their companies. The list includes;
- Dr. Alan Gaveck – Liveyon LLC
- Dr. Andrew Kornstein – Museum Mile Plastic Surgery Center
- Dr. Pierce – Pierce Surgical Consolidated
- Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein – NYU Langone Medical Center Hospital for Joint Diseases.
- Dr. Steven Cohen – Medical Director, FACES+ Plastic Surgery,
- Dr. Hilton Becker, Plastic surgeon
- Dr. Neil Riordan – Stem Cell Institute
- Dr. Kristin Comella – U.S. Stem Cell
- Dr. Jonathan Landow – Managing Director Advanced Stem Cell Rx
- Dr. Willam Murphy Jr. – U.S. Stem Cell
- Dr. Mark Berman – Cell Surgical Network
- Dr. Kirk Wersland – Predictive Bio Logistics
- Dr. Vincent Giampapa – medical advisor at Jeunesse, nominated for a 2014 Nobel Prize
- Dr. Jay Greenstein – Sport and Spine Rehab Clinical Research Foundation
- Dr. Tami Meraglia – Seattle stem cell center.
- Dr. Hasan Badday – Pacific Pain and Regenerative Medicine
- Dr. James Gardner – General Surgery Chief Resident, and research fellow in the UCSF Diabetes Center
According to Dr. Tami Meraglia, stem cells can;
- Aid in the repair of teeth.
- Improve blood glucose
- Treat MS
- Treat Cerebral Palsy
- Can be used to treat eye diseases
Others Doctors have been able to use stem cells to successfully treat;
- Multiple scoliosis
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Stem cells are being investigated for the treatment of lesions or damage to the brain, Lyme disease and Alzheimer’s.
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Torn ligaments
- Cartilage repair
- Degenerative disk disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Lung (COPD)
- Heart attack (damage to the muscle tissue of the heart)
- Kidney and liver
- Any organ that has ongoing healing.
- Note, stem cells cannot regrow an organ that no longer exists, but it can help repair an organ that is damaged.
Ok, what else can we expect?
The whole world will soon see this as a new revolution in the way our illnesses and injuries are treated. Instead of treating a symptom, our conditions will be treated.
What can I look forward to?
- Have my rotator cuff injury repaired and become pain-free.
- Have my wrist pain treated.
- Maybe have my lower back pain treated.
- Looking forward to the future and having my hearing repaired.
- Treating the brain trauma I have suffered and reducing my memory loss.
- When necessary, I can have my knee cartridge repaired.
- But …
- I cannot expect to have my PCL repaired without surgery.
- I cannot expect to have the fussed disks cleaned up without surgery.
- I cannot expect to rebuild my Prostate.
The Answer to the Original Question.
Stem Cells of a young individual (under age 35 as an example) are very effective. The younger the better. After age 35, your stem cells degrade and decrease in quality and quantity as you age. That is why post-natal stem cells are so valuable. Remember that post-natal stem cells are harvested from tissue that would normally be discarded after a live, healthy delivery.
Are there dangers associated with stem cell treatments? Yes, there are some things you must consider.
- Any needle injection has the potential for infection. This is a minor issue and is controlled by sterile conditions.
- Make sure, if you go outside the U.S. to 3-World countries, the physician is using human adult stem cells.
- Make sure the physician is not using embryonic stem cells.
Other than these concerns, stem cells are very safe and very effective.