HEALTH EDUCATION:  Stem Cells and Plant Stem Cells

HEALTH EDUCATION: Stem Cells and Plant Stem Cells

WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?

By: Dr. Farrah Agustin
DrFarrahCancerCenter.com

For those that might not know what stem cells are, we’ll help you try to understand.

Stem cells are distinguished from other cell types by three important characteristics.

  1. Stem cells are capable of dividing for long periods of time
  2. Stem Cells are unspecialized
  3. Stem Cells can transform into specialized cells

In the human body, stem cells are found at sites where new tissue is required, such as muscle, nerve tissue, the gut or epidermal structures like skin or hair. These cells are able to divide freely—an action not seen in other cells—and can transform into specialized cells to become permanent additions to the human body. Basically, it’s a generic cell that can be assigned a job, and become a cell specific for that job.

In a laboratory setting, a starter culture of stem cells can be simulated to grow into a large quantity in a relatively short period of time.

There are two primary types of stem cells when referring to humans. Embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic “somatic” or “adult” stem cells.

Stem cells derived from embryonic cells have been regarded as being the most flexible in their ability to adapt. But, these are the most controversial type of stem cells, because they require the destruction of a human embryo and the harvesting of the tissues. This type raises significant ethical considerations.

All around the world, numerous clinics use patient-derived and cultured adult stem cells for a range of cosmetic therapies such as face lifts, skin-tightening, and hair follicle rejuvenation. These types of therapies imply that living stem cells can transform into new living tissues such as skin, hair, nerves, or even muscle tissue for a more youthful appearance.

PLANT STEM CELLS

Plant stem cells, scientifically known as Meristematic cells, are the undifferentiated cells found in the meristems of vegetation. Like human stem cells, they have the ability to self-renew and replace specific plant cells in need of repair. Unlike many human stem cell products or therapies, plant based stem cell products and therapies are based upon non-living plant tissues and components. Plant stem cells should not be confused with living human stem cells.

 CONFUSED?

You may be confused because many over-zealous marketers of plant “stem cell” nutrition products or beauty products have misappropriated the term “stem cells” for the sake of selling unproven and unscientific products, resulting in great confusion in the minds of consumers. I first witnessed this years ago when a woman was offering to sell me her well known, nationwide soap business. The package for her new product had an apple on the front, and said that it was a stem cell therapeutic soap. I questioned further, and she let me know that each batch of soap that was mixed and made had a ground up apple stem in it as an ingredient. This is when it became clear to me as a Doctor, the hype around “stem cell” plant products.

Plant based “stem cells” have gained lots of attention because of their use in cosmetics, such as renewing skin creams. It’s very important to note however, that the plant-based “stem cells” found in these products are non-living cells that have been obliterated into a dried and powdered form. That means what’s being used are pulverizednatural proteins, sugars, and other non-living plant matter and fragments.Technically, the types of products using these compounds might be better described as plant based stem cell derivatives.

Is there a benefit? If someone could demonstrate non-industry or non-company sponsored studies showing significant benefit without a financial interest in these plant stem “stem cells”, I would love to read and study it. Being a scientist focused keenly on Natural Medicine, I’m very passionate about the science of it.

There are certainly micro and trace amounts of phyto-nutrient residues that will be found in the stems of grape stems and apple stems, but certainly and most assuredly, not in a concentration or quantity which would deliverany real benefits of note, or some of the amazing & magical cures being reported from “magic apples”.

When people hear the “pitch” about a “stem cell” product, their desire for hope is often overshadowed by a lack of science behind the claims, or about the financial rewards of selling a “cutting edge” or “revolutionary” product. We Filipinos are known for our widespread colonial mentality regarding such things. I’ve seen numerous sellers of these types of products claiming to cure diabetes, hypertension, cancers, stroke, paralysis and more. Realizing they aren’t equivalent to live human stem cell therapy can help avoid the temptation of buying into the hype. As a Phyto Scientist (Plant scientist), Medical Doctor, Clinician and Clinical Researcher, it saddens me to see people claiming phyto-science (Plant science) when it’s actually pseudo-science (junk science).

IT’S LIKE COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES.

Human stem cells are a very interesting area of science with numerous possible applications in healthcare. Their unique ability to transform into specialized cell tissue makes their possible significance nearly endless. Their use and regulation is a source of ongoing controversy, and is monitored by regulatory agencies the world over. On the other hand, plant based stem cell products can offer a range of natural compounds, but living stem cells aren’t among them. Understanding this can help illustrate that products often sold for thousands of pesos per gram—are often little more than advertising and marketing trickery, and shouldn’t be regarded as equivalent to live stem cell therapy in any way.

Natural Medicine, which I promote is absolutely scientific and repeatable. This is the reason I work directly with the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Healthcare (PITAHC), to ensure that we objectively and scientifically separate the wheat from the chaff, (sort the valuable from the worthless).

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WHAT ARE STEM CELL?

mayoclinic.org: Stem cells are the body’s raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.

These daughter cells either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types.

Stem cells differentiate into other cell types Source: Cryo-Cell

A stem cell has the potential to become one of many different types of cells.

Cryo-Cell: Stem cells are unique cells: They have the ability to become many different types of cells, and they can replicate rapidly. Stem cells play a huge part in the body’s healing process, and the introduction of new stem cells has always showed great promise in the treatment of many conditions. It wasn’t until we found out where and how to isolate these cells that we started using them for transplants. Although a person’s own stem cells are always 100 percent compatible, there are risks in using someone else’s stem cells, especially if the donor and recipient are not immediately related. The discovery of certain markers allows us to see how compatible a donor’s and host’s cells will be. The relatively recent discovery of stem cells in the umbilical cord’s blood has proven advantageous over acquiring stem cells from other sources. Researchers are currently conducting clinical trials with stem cells, adding to the growing list of 80 diseases which they can treat.

 WHY IS THERE SUCH AN INTEREST IN STEM CELLS?

Researchers and doctors hope stem cell studies can help to:

  • Increase understanding of how diseases occur. By watching stem cells mature into cells in bones, heart muscle, nerves, and other organs and tissue, researchers and doctors may better understand how diseases and conditions develop.
  • Generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells (regenerative medicine). Stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells that can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people.People who might benefit from stem cell therapies include those with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer and osteoarthritis.Stem cells may have the potential to be grown to become new tissue for use in transplant and regenerative medicine. Researchers continue to advance the knowledge on stem cells and their applications in transplant and regenerative medicine.
  • Test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. Before using new drugs in people, some types of stem cells are useful to test the safety and quality of investigational drugs. This type of testing will most likely first have a direct impact on drug development for cardiac toxicity testing.New areas of study include the effectiveness of using human stem cells that have been programmed into tissue-specific cells to test new drugs. For testing of new drugs to be accurate, the cells must be programmed to acquire properties of the type of cells to be tested. Techniques to program cells into specific cells continue to be studied.For instance, nerve cells could be generated to test a new drug for a nerve disease. Tests could show whether the new drug had any effect on the cells and whether the cells were harmed.

WHERE DO STEM CELLS COME FROM?

Researchers have discovered several sources of stem cells:

  • Embryonic stem cells. These stem cells come from embryos that are three to five days old. At this stage, an embryo is called a blastocyst and has about 150 cells.These are pluripotent (ploo-RIP-uh-tunt) stem cells, meaning they can divide into more stem cells or can become any type of cell in the body. This versatility allows embryonic stem cells to be used to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs, although their use in people has been to date limited to eye-related disorders such as macular degeneration.
  • Adult stem cells. These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat. Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body.Until recently, researchers thought adult stem cells could create only similar types of cells. For instance, researchers thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells.However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create unrelated types of cells. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells. This research has led to early-stage clinical trials to test usefulness and safety in people. For example, adult stem cells are currently being tested in people with neurological or heart disease.
  • Adult cells altered to have properties of embryonic stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells). Scientists have successfully transformed regular adult cells into stem cells using genetic reprogramming. By altering the genes in the adult cells, researchers can reprogram the cells to act similarly to embryonic stem cells.This new technique may allow researchers to use these reprogrammed cells instead of embryonic stem cells and prevent immune system rejection of the new stem cells. However, scientists don’t yet know if altering adult cells will cause adverse effects in humans.Researchers have been able to take regular connective tissue cells and reprogram them to become functional heart cells. In studies, animals with heart failure that were injected with new heart cells experienced improved heart function and survival time.
  • Perinatal stem cells. Researchers have discovered stem cells in amniotic fluid in addition to umbilical cord blood stem cells. These stem cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells.Amniotic fluid fills the sac that surrounds and protects a developing fetus in the uterus. Researchers have identified stem cells in samples of amniotic fluid drawn from pregnant women during a procedure called amniocentesis, a test conducted to test for abnormalities.More study of amniotic fluid stem cells is needed to understand their potential.
 WHY IS THERE CONTROVERSY ABOUT USING EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS?

Embryonic stem cells are obtained from early-stage embryos — a group of cells that forms when a woman’s egg is fertilized with a man’s sperm in an in vitro fertilization clinic. Because human embryonic stem cells are extracted from human embryos, several questions and issues have been raised about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research.

The National Institutes of Health created guidelines for human stem cell research in 2009. Guidelines included defining embryonic stem cells and how they may be used in research and donation guidelines for embryonic stem cells. Also, guidelines stated embryonic stem cells may only be used from embryos created by in vitro fertilization when the embryo is no longer needed.

 WHERE DO THESE EMBRYOS COME FROM?

The embryos being used in embryonic stem cell research come from eggs that were fertilized at in vitro fertilization clinics but never implanted in a woman’s uterus. The stem cells are donated with informed consent from donors. The stem cells can live and grow in special solutions in test tubes or petri dishes in laboratories.

WHY CAN’T RESEARCHERS USE ADULT STEM CELLS INSTEAD?

Although research into adult stem cells is promising, adult stem cells may not be as versatile and durable as are embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells may not be able to be manipulated to produce all cell types, which limits how adult stem cells can be used to treat diseases.

Adult stem cells also are more likely to contain abnormalities due to environmental hazards, such as toxins, or from errors acquired by the cells during replication. However, researchers have found that adult stem cells are more adaptable than was initially suspected.

 WHAT ARE STEM CELL LINES AND WHY DO RESEARCHERS WANT TO USE THEM?

A stem cell line is a group of cells that all descend from a single original stem cell and is grown in a lab. Cells in a stem cell line keep growing but don’t differentiate into specialized cells. Ideally, they remain free of genetic defects and continue to create more stem cells. Clusters of cells can be taken from a stem cell line and frozen for storage or shared with other researchers.

WHAT IS STEM THERAPHY  (REGENERATIVE MEDICINES), AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the reparative response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives. It is the next chapter of organ transplantation and uses cells instead of donor organs, which are limited in supply.

Researchers grow stem cells in a lab. These stem cells are manipulated to specialize into specific types of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells or nerve cells.

The specialized cells can then be implanted into a person. For example, if the person has heart disease, the cells could be injected into the heart muscle. The healthy transplanted heart cells could then contribute to repairing defective heart muscle.

Researchers have already shown that adult bone marrow cells guided to become heart-like cells can repair heart tissue in people, and more research is ongoing.

 HAVE STEM CELLS ALREADY BEEN USED TO TREAT DISEASES?

Yes, doctors have performed stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants. In stem cell transplants, stem cells replace cells damaged by chemotherapy or disease or as a way for the donor’s immune system to fight some types of cancer and blood-related diseases, such as leukemia. These transplants use adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood.

Researchers are testing adult stem cells to treat other conditions, including a number of degenerative diseases such as heart failure.

 WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH USING EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS IN HUMAN?

To be useful in people, researchers must be certain that stem cells will differentiate into the specific cell types desired.

Researchers have discovered ways to direct stem cells to become specific types of cells, such as directing embryonic stem cells to become heart cells. Research is ongoing in this area.

Embryonic stem cells also could grow irregularly or specialize in different cell types spontaneously. Researchers study how to control the growth and differentiation of embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells also might trigger an immune response in which the recipient’s body attacks the stem cells as foreign invaders, or simply fail to function normally, with unknown consequences. Researchers continue to study how to avoid these possible complications.

“This could potentially save the state $100 Million using regenerative medicine as an alternative to surgery or pharmaceuticals for orthopedic conditions.” states Morgan Pile, Executive Vice President of Regenerative Medicine Solutions, who worked with HB2014 sponsors Senator David Sanders, Rep Joe Farrer and Rep Scott Baltz to bring the opportunity to the state. “Regenerative Injection Therapies like Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), Bone Marrow Aspirate Concentrate (BMAC) and Amniotic tissue have been shown to be effective treatments with up to an 80% savings of surgical costs with virtually absent complications.” Source: LinkedIn

 

 WHAT IS THERAPEUTIC CLONING, AND WHAT BENEFITS MIGHT IT OFFER?

Therapeutic cloning, also called somatic cell nuclear transfer, is a technique to create versatile stem cells independent of fertilized eggs. In this technique, the nucleus, which contains the genetic material, is removed from an unfertilized egg. The nucleus is also removed from a somatic cell of a donor.

This donor nucleus is then injected into the egg, replacing the nucleus that was removed, a process called nuclear transfer. The egg is allowed to divide and soon forms a blastocyst. This process creates a line of stem cells that is genetically identical to the donor’s — in essence, a clone.

Some researchers believe that stem cells derived from therapeutic cloning may offer benefits over those from fertilized eggs because cloned cells are less likely to be rejected once transplanted back into the donor and may allow researchers to see exactly how a disease develops.

 HAS THERAPEUTIC CLONING IN PEOPLE BEEN SUCCESSFUL?

No. Researchers haven’t been able to successfully perform therapeutic cloning with humans despite success in a number of other species.

However, in recent studies, researchers have created human pluripotent stem cells by modifying the therapeutic cloning process. Researchers continue to study the potential of therapeutic cloning in people.

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatment is promising or emerging. Image credit: pinterest.com

Wikipedia: STEM-CELL THERAPHY

Stem-cell therapy is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition. Bone marrow transplant is the most widely used stem-cell therapy, but some therapies derived from umbilical cord blood are also in use. Wikipedia

Related image   An astounding new therapy is now continuously engaged in research and experiments. This therapy may bring some ray of hope against the aging process, and for that matter, may succeed death itself by regenerating old and damaged cells. Source: need-nutrition.blogspot.com

eurostemcell.org: WHAT DISEASES AND CONDITIONS CAN BE TREATED WITH STEM CELLS?

It is not the news most people want to hear, but there are still only a few approved clinical uses of stem cell research. Some other applications of stem cells, for a range of conditions, are being investigated in clinical trials. A very large amount of research is ongoing globally.

The most well-established and widely used stem cell treatment is the transplantation of blood stem cells to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers. The US National Marrow Donor Program has a full list of diseases treatable by blood stem cell transplant.  More than 26,000 patients are treated with blood stem cells in Europe each year.

Since the 1980s, skin stem cells have been used to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns on very large areas of the body. Only a few clinical centres are able to carry out this treatment and it is usually reserved for patients with life-threatening burns.

A new stem-cell-based treatment to repair damage to the cornea (the surface of the eye) after an injury like a chemical burn, has received conditional marketing approval in Europe.

Stem cell therapy using tissue stem cells has been in routine use since the 1970s! Bone marrow transplants are able to replace a patient’s diseased blood system for life, thanks to the properties of blood stem cells. Many thousands of patients benefit from this kind of treatment every year, although some do suffer from complications as with other organ transplants: the donor’s immune cells sometimes attack the patient’s tissues (graft-versus-host disease or GVHD) and there is a risk of infection during the treatment because the patient’s own bone marrow cells, and with them the patient’s immune system, have to be killed with chemotherapy before the transplant can take place.

Skin stem cells have been used since the 1980s to grow sheets of new skin in the lab for severe burn patients. However, the new skin has no hair follicles, sweat glands or sebaceous (oil) glands, so the technique is far from perfect and further research is needed to improve it. Currently, the technique is mainly used to save the lives of patients who have third degree burns over very large areas of their bodies and is only carried out in a few clinical centres.

Cord blood stem cells can be harvested from the umbilical cord of a baby after birth. The cells can be frozen (‘cryopreserved’) in cell banks and are currently used to treat children with cancerous blood disorders such as leukaemia, as well as genetic blood diseases like Fanconi anaemia. Treatment of adults has been more challenging, due to the low cell number obtained from one umbilical cord. As such adult treatment requires a double unit cord blood transplantation (i.e. cord blood stem cells from two umbilical cords). And although one advantage of cord blood transplants is that they appear to be less likely to be rejected by the immune system than conventional bone marrow transplants, cord blood must still be matched to the patient to be successful. And even then an increased immune response in adult recipients might cause problems.

So far, only blood diseases can be treated with cord blood stem cells. Although some studies have suggested cord blood may contain stem cells that can produce other types of specialised cells not related to the blood, none of this research has been confirmed.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are found in the bone marrow and are responsible for bone and cartilage repair. On top of that, they can also produce fat cells. Early research suggesting that MSCs could differentiate into many other cell types and that they could also be obtained from a wide variety of tissues other than bone marrow have not been confirmed. There is still considerable scientific debate surrounding the exact nature of the cells (which are also termed Mesenchymal stem cells) obtained from these other tissues.

As of now, no treatments using mesenchymal stem cells are proven to be effective. There are, however, some clinical trials investigating the safety and effectiveness of MSC treatments for repairing bone or cartilage. Other trials are investigating whether MSCs might help repair blood vessel damage linked to heart attacks or diseases such as critical limb ischaemia, but it is not yet clear whether these treatments will be effective.

Several other features of MSCs, such as their potential effect on immune responses in the body to reduce inflammation to help treat transplant rejection or autoimmune diseases are still under thorough investigation. It will take numerous studies to evaluate their therapeutic value in the future.

Clinical studies in patients have shown that tissue stem cells taken from an area of the eye called the limbus can be used to repair damage to the cornea – the transparent layer at the front of the eye. If the cornea is severely damaged, for example by a chemical burn, limbal stem cells can be taken from the patient, multiplied in the lab and transplanted back onto the patient’s damaged eye(s) to restore sight. However, this can only help patients who have some undamaged limbal stem cells remaining in one of their eyes. The treatment has been shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials and has now been approved by regulatory authorities for widespread use in Europe. Limbal stem cells are one of only three stem cell therapies (treatments utilising blood stem cells and skin stem cells being the other two) that are available through healthcare providers in Europe.

closerlookatstemcells.org: NINE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT STEM CELLS TREATMENTS  

Many clinics offering stem cell treatments make claims that are not supported by a current understanding of science

Stem cells have tremendous promise to help us understand and treat a range of diseases, injuries and other health-related conditions. Their potential is evident in the use of blood stem cells to treat diseases of the blood, a therapy that has saved the lives of thousands of children with leukemia; and can be seen in the use of stem cells for tissue grafts to treat diseases or injury to the bone, skin and surface of the eye. Important clinical trials involving stem cells are underway for many other conditions and researchers continue to explore new avenues using stem cells in medicine.

There is still a lot to learn about stem cells, however, and their current applications as treatments are sometimes exaggerated by the media and other parties who do not fully understand the science and current limitations, and also by “clinics” looking to capitalize on the hype by selling treatments to chronically ill or seriously injured patients. The information on this page is intended to help you understand both the potential and the limitations of stem cells at this point in time, and to help you spot some of the misinformation that is widely circulated by clinics offering unproven treatments.

It is important to discuss these Nine Things to Know and any research or information you gather with your primary care physician and other trusted members of your healthcare team in deciding what is right for you.

1. CURRENTLY, VERY FEW STEM CELL TREATMENTS HAVE BEEN PROVEN SAFE AND EFFECTIVE

The list of diseases for which stem cell treatments have been shown to be beneficial is still very short. The best-defined and most extensively used stem cell treatment is hematopoietic (or blood) stem cell transplantation, for example, bone marrow transplantation, to treat certain blood and immune system disorders or to rebuild the blood system after treatments for some kinds of cancer.

Some bone, skin and corneal (eye) injuries and diseases can be treated by grafting or implanting tissues, and the healing process relies on stem cells within this implanted tissue. These procedures are widely accepted as safe and effective by the medical community. All other applications of stem cells are yet to be proven in clinical trials and should be considered highly experimental.

Beware of stem cell treatments offered without regulatory approval or outside the confines of a legitimate and registered clinical trial.

2. THERE IS SOMETHING TO LOSE WHEN YOU TRY AN UNPROVEN TREATMENT

When there is no existing or effective treatment for a disease or condition, it is easy to understand why you may feel there is nothing to lose from trying something new, even if it isn’t proven. Unfortunately, most of the unproven stem cell treatments for sale throughout the world carry very little promise of actual benefit and very real risks:

  • Complications may create new short- and long-term health problems, and/or may make your condition or symptoms more difficult to manage
  • Receipt of one unproven or experimental treatment may make you ineligible for future clinical trials or treatment options
  • Out-of-pocket expenses could be enormous. In addition to treatment costs, there may be accommodation charges or other fees. In most cases, insurance companies and government health programs do not cover the cost of experimental treatments
  • If travel is involved, there are additional considerations, including time away from friends and family

Before you decide whether to pursue an unproven or experimental treatment, carefully assess the treatment you are considering. Weigh the risks and potential benefits. Get input from your loved ones and from your healthcare team; they may provide insight you haven’t thought of.

Unproven treatments present serious health, personal and financial considerations. Consider what might be lost and discuss these risks with your family and healthcare providers.

3. DIFFERENT TYPES OF STEM CELLS SERVE DIFFERENT PURPOSES IN THE BODY

Different types of stem cells come from different places in your body and have different functions. Learn more about various types of stem cells here.

Scientists are exploring the different roles tissue-specific stem cells might play in healing, with the understanding that these stem cells have specific and limited capabilities. Without manipulation in the lab, tissue-specific stem cells can only generate the other cell types found in the tissues where they live. For example, the blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells found in bone marrow regenerate the cells in blood, while neural stem cells in the brain make brain cells. A hematopoietic stem cell won’t spontaneously make a brain cell and vice versa. Thus, it is unlikely that a single cell type can be used to treat a multitude of unrelated diseases involving different tissues or organs.

Be wary of clinics offering treatments with stem cells originating from a part of your body unrelated to your disease or condition.

4. THE SAME STEM CELL TREATMENT IS UNLIKELY TO WORK FOR DIFFERENT DISEASES OR CONDITIONS

Because stem cells that are specific to certain tissues cannot make cells found in other tissues without careful manipulation in the lab, it is very unlikely that the same stem cell treatment will work for diseases affecting different tissues and organs within the body.

Scientists have learned to make certain specialized cell types through a multi-step processes using pluripotent stem cells, that is embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These cells have the potential to form all the different cell types in the body and offer an exciting opportunity to develop new treatment strategies. Embryonic stem cells and iPS cells, however, are not good candidates to be used directly as treatments, as they require careful instruction to become the specific cells needed to regenerate diseased or damaged tissue. If not properly directed, these stem cells may overgrow and cause tumors when injected into the patient.

View clinics that offer the same cell treatment for a wide variety of conditions or diseases with extreme caution. Be wary of claims that stem cells will somehow just know where to go and what to do to treat a specific condition.

5. THE SCIENCE BEHIND A DISEASE SHOULD MATCH THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE TREATMENT

The more you know about the causes and effects of your disease, the better armed you are to identify your best treatment options. If you have a certain type of blood cancer, for example, transplantation with blood-forming stem cells makes sense, as the treatment requires those specific cells to do exactly what they are designed to do. If you have diabetes, receiving a blood-forming stem cell treatment doesn’t make sense, because the problem is in the pancreas rather than in the blood itself. Without significant and careful manipulation in the lab, tissue-specific stem cells do not generate cell types found outside of their home tissues.

Your best protection against clinics selling unproven stem cell treatments is an understanding of the science behind your disease, injury or condition.

6. CELLS FROM YOUR OWN BODY ARE NOT AUTOMATICALLY SAFE WHEN USED IN TREATMENTS

In theory, your immune system would not attack your own cells if they were used in a transplant. The use of a patient’s own cells is called an autologous transplant. However, the processes by which the cells were acquired, grown and then reintroduced into the body would carry risks. Here are just a few known risks of autologous stem cell treatments:

  • Any time cells are removed from your body, there is a risk they may be contaminated with viruses, bacteria or other pathogens that could cause disease when reintroduced
  • Manipulation of cells by a clinic may interfere with their normal function, including those that control cell growth
  • How and where the cells are put back into your body matters, and some clinics inject cells into places where they are not normally present and do not belong

Every medical procedure carries risk; be wary of clinics that gloss over or minimize the risks associated with their treatments.

7. PATIENT TESTIMONIALS AND OTHER MARKETING PROVIDED BY CLINICS MAY BE MISLEADING

It can be hard to tell the difference between doctors conducting responsible clinical trials and clinics selling unproven treatments. One common differentiator is the way a treatment is marketed. Most specialized doctors receive patient referrals, while clinics selling stem cell treatments tend to market directly to patients, often through persuasive language on the Internet, Facebook and in newspaper advertisements.

Clinics peddling unproven stem cell treatments frequently overstate the benefits of their offerings and use patient testimonials to support their claims. These testimonials can be intentionally or unintentionally misleading. For example, a person may feel better immediately after receiving a treatment, but the perceived or actual improvement may be due to other factors, such as an intense belief that the treatment will work, auxiliary treatments accompanying the main treatment, healthy lifestyle changes adapted in conjunction with the treatment and natural fluctuations in the disease or condition. These factors are complex and difficult to measure objectively outside the boundaries of carefully designed clinical trials.

Beware of clinics that use persuasive language, including patient testimonials, on the Internet, Facebook and newspapers, to market their treatments, instead of science-based evidence.

8. AN EXPERIMENTAL TREATMENT OFFERED FOR SALE IS NOT THE SAME AS A CLINICAL TRIAL

The fact that a procedure is experimental does not automatically mean that it is part of a research study or clinical trial. Responsible clinical trials share several important features:

  • They build upon their own preclinical data, lab-based research on cells, tissues and animals, that indicates the treatment being tested is likely to be safe and effective
  • Oversight by an independent medical ethics committee to protect participants’ rights
  • Conformity to regulatory requirements, including a listing in a recognized clinical trial registry
  • A structure designed to answer specific questions about a new treatment or a new way of using current treatments (results are usually compared with a control group of patients who do not receive the experimental treatment)
  • The cost of the new treatment and monitoring is not covered by the participant

Responsibly-conducted clinical trials are critical to the development of new treatments.

Beware of expensive treatments that have not passed successfully through clinical trials.

9. THE PROCESS BY WHICH SCIENCE BECOMES MEDICINE IS DESIGNED TO MINIMIZE HARM AND MAXIMIZE EFFECTIVENESS

There is a lengthy, multi-step process involved in responsibly translating science into safe and effective medical treatments. During this process, scientists may discover that an approach that seemed promising in the lab, does not work in animals, or that an approach that worked in animals, does not work in humans. They may discover that a treatment effectively addresses symptoms of a disease or injury in humans, but that it carries unacceptable risks. Scientists carefully review and replicate their work, and invite their peers to do the same. This process by which science becomes medicine is often long, but it is designed to minimize patient harm and to maximize the likelihood of effectiveness.

Beware of clinics that circumvent the accepted process by which science becomes medicine.

 Stem cell researchers are making great advances in understanding normal development, figuring out what goes wrong in disease and developing and testing potential treatments to help patients. They still have much to learn, however, about how stem cells work in the body and their capacity for healing. Safe and effective treatments for most diseases, conditions and injuries are in the future.

 

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