Stem cells, or mesenchymal signaling cells, signal tissue-specific stem cells and site-specific stem cells to activate. When we suffer an injury or there is damage in the body, stem cells signal the body to release growth factors in order to repair and heal the damage.
Stem cells are a big subject, and often misunderstood. Let’s dig into it a bit because stem cells are a very powerful intrinsic healing mechanism and offer big potential to substantially improve musculoskeletal issues.
How do stem cells work?
When introduced in the body, most stem cells are capable of signaling site-specific stem cells to restore and repair damaged tissue and to re-establish proper function of organs and systems. There are different types of stem cells we can inject. Getting a grasp of the differences among them will help you make the right choice for you. Key things to know: how stem cells were obtained and what kind of stem cells are to be used.
There are two ways to obtain stem cells: autologous, a procedure where the stem cells are obtained from your own body, and allogeneic a process where stem cells are obtained from a donor individual. Both methods are currently being used and is up to the doctor and the patient to decide what’s the best route to take when tailoring a specific treatment.
Amniotic Stem cells
Amniotic stem cells work very well for many people and they are the primary type of stem cell type we use therapeutically for health and injury recovery treatments.
Amniotic stem cells are obtained after a live birth C-section from a healthy mother. There is amniotic fluid which has cells and growth factors. And there is micronized tissue from the amniotic sac that will work as an allograft – tissue that is transplanted from one person to another to facilitate a structural component for regrowth. The FDA classifies the use of amniotic stem cells as a tissue allograft. The body can use it and build new tissue on top of it. It is almost like a mini-surgical procedure. You get growth factors and stem cells in the amniotic fluid, and more stem cells, plus a grafting effect from the micronized tissue.
Not every practitioner uses both the tissue and the fluid; not every company’s amniotic stem cell product has both. I like to use both when injecting joint/ligaments/tendons, for example, because it gives the patient an extra opportunity for healing. I like to use just the fluid, however, when injecting the face and scalp because I can use a smaller needle and I have not seen a difference in the results in those areas when using both.
The source of any kind of stem cell product is important. As is the case so often in life, some companies deliver a much better product than others.
Stem cells from amniotic tissue are fabulous for professional athletes, for example, who want to get right back in the game. Amniotic stem cells do not trigger an inflammatory healing response. If we used stem cells from adipose tissue or bone marrow, athletes would be sidelined for about three weeks because the body would be using inflammation to promote the healing process. When platelets (clotting factors in our blood) and red blood cells are in the mix, you get an inflammatory response; stem cells from amniotic fluid/tissue do not contain these blood components.
Amniotic stem cells are great for people who need the least amount of down time.
Bone Marrow Stem Cells
Stem cells sourced from your own bone marrow are the most used stem cells in the world. Using bone marrow won’t necessarily give you the largest number of those signalling cells, the mesenchymal cells, but it gives you a nice mix of mesenchymal cells, growth factors, red blood cells, platelets, and hematopoietic cells (cells that make your blood regrow).
The procedure to obtain stem cells from bone marrow has gotten much simpler over the years. It is an out-patient procedure that takes about 45 minutes and requires only local anesthesia. Our aspiration procedure is minimally invasive. We use a needle to withdraw bone marrow which is the source of the stem cells. Technique is an issue here – some practitioners know how to pull out more stem cells than others. After the marrow is removed, we can either inject immediately to capture the platelets and all the other components, or we can we spin it down to concentrate just the stem cells which are then injected directly into the site of the injury.
Note: People on blood thinners, people with cancer, and people with certain diseases are not candidates for bone marrow or adipose stem cell procedures.
Adipose Tissue Stem Cells
Like bone marrow, adipose tissue is part of your own body. Adipose tissue is body fat. We do a mini-liposuction procedure to extract your own fat cells from just below the skin where stem cells are abundant. The tissue is mechanically micronized with filters to prepare it for immediate injection at the problem site.
There are more mesenchymal cells in fat cells than in bone marrow, and obtaining cells from adipose tissue is less invasive than bone marrow. If a high number of mesenchymal cells is the primary goal, stem cells derived from adipose tissue will deliver.
Umbilical Cord Stem Cells
These are sourced from the umbilical cord of healthy, newborn babies whose mothers have undergone a number of screening tests. The FDA classifies umbilical cord stem cells as a human tissue product. Umbilical cord stem cells may contain the highest number of those potent mesenchymal cells that signal healing of damaged body parts. These are adult stem cells meaning they are naturally limited in what other types of cells they can become which makes them very safe to use.
There has never been a reported case of amniotic or umbilical stem cells – the two types of stem cells that you would source from someone else’s body – causing a rejection reaction. Stem cell therapy mimics a process that is ongoing in our body every day.
Embryonic Stem cells
As their name implies, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos. These are the most controversial of all sources. They are not allowed in the United States and we do not use them at the Osteopathic Center. Embryonic stem cells come to life when the egg and sperm first come together, first begin to multiply, and these first few cells are allowed to develop into every other kind of cell for a short period of time. They are not adult cells and that raises concern as to whether their use would promote cancer or other disorders. You could say that because they are so primitive, it is hard to predict what they will do.
Culture Expanded Stem Cells
Some practitioners use what are called “culture expanded stem cells.” They take a cell into the lab, grow it with nutrients, and end up with a million or more mesenchymal cells. Generally, these come from amniotic or umbilical sources. But there is some evidence that if you grow them in a lab, they are not as effective in the body, so you do not get that extra bang for your buck. They are used in the United States for research studies at this time.
You Have Options
Stem cell therapy is an exciting field of regenerative medicine with very promising possibilities. Mesenchymal stem cells, or medical signaling cells, have a track record of proven benefits. Stem cell treatments are minimally invasive techniques using the same growth factors found in your own body.
Want to know what specific stem cell therapy may be beneficial for you? Let us walk you through your options and create a plan using the most advanced research and technology to help you heal your injuries and restore optimal health to your body.
Call us today!