What are Stem Cells?
Lately, it's been hard to go far without hearing something about "Stem Cells," and how they have the potential to do amazing things in medicine. So what are they? Stem Cells are cells that have the ability to not only reproduce themselves, but to also turn into other cells. You could say that the fertilized egg is the ultimate stem cell since it can turn into all the different tissues of the body. During development, your body retains other stem cells, some of which can have the ability to turn into pretty much any kind of tissue in the human body.
Why use Stem Cells?
While it's true that we all have stem cells which have the ability to turn into any kind of needed cell, many of our body tissues have very few of these cells - and not enough to regrow or repair damaged tissue. Tissues like nerve cells have very limited ability for self-repair, and other tissues like tendons, ligaments and cartilage get very limited blood supply (which can bring stem cells among other things). By giving stem cells, you could potentially have the ability to regrow tissue that otherwise would not be able to repair itself.
How do you Get Them?
There are only 4 legal ways to get stem cells in the United States today. Don't worry, none of them come from dead babies...
- Bone Marrow (obtained from your own body and relatively easily processed).
- Fat Cells (obtained from your own body - it has higher concentration of cells but is harder to process and the FDA has made doing this more difficult.
- Amniotic (sometimes called "placental") stem cells - from the amniotic fluid in the sac of a newborn baby. Not your own cells but are "fresh" and theoretically might be able to divide better.
- Umbilical stem cells - from the umbilical cord attached to a newborn's placenta. Same advantages as to Amniotic but much higher concentrations of stem cells and growth factors.
How Does it Work?
Once the stem cells have been harvested and processed, they are injected into the area which is in need of repair. The cells can then help to repair the tissue to allow for recovery. We use the umbilical stem cells, as we feel this gives the very highest concentration and numbers of stem cells and growth factors for the very best results possible. Some people feel improvement quickly, although it's more common for people to not notice too much for the first two weeks or so but to then start to see results. There can be continued additional benefit for 8 weeks or even longer from the stem cell injections. Oftentimes one injection is all you need, although certain cases may need more.