Arizona Pain patient Mickey knew stem cell treatment offered no guarantees, only the potential of relief after 15 years of unbearable pain.

A congenital birth injury had left one arm essentially useless, and Mickey relied on his other arm for most of his life until the shoulder finally gave out. Arthritis, worn down cartilage, torn muscles—the list went on.

Debilitating pain knocked down the once-active man, and he was reluctantly contemplating surgery when he decided to give stem cell therapy a chance.

Stem cell therapy is still emerging, but researchers are learning more every day about its vast potential in healing chronic pain.

Even though many questions remain unanswered about the breakthrough treatment, cutting-edge medical facilities around the nation, including the Arizona Pain Stem Cell Institute, are already making the treatment available to patients like Mickey.

Although skeptics initially wondered whether stem cells would deliver on sky-high promises, rigorous clinical trials seem to support its potential. Even more promising, these new studies are diving into the specifics of stem cells, uncovering greater detail about how they work to ensure more consistent results.

Dependable results could pave the way to eventual federal approval, making this powerful treatment more accessible. For now, the research continues.

Stem cells and osteoarthritis

One of the most exciting possibilities that stem cells offer is the possibility of helping people living with pain from osteoarthritis.

Researchers now know which specific stem cells offer the most healing potential.

Researchers from the University of York recently identified specific types of stem cells with the ability to rebuild bone, cartilage, and tissue, potentially working to heal osteoarthritis. These cells resemble another type of cell known as bone marrow stomal cells, and researchers until now haven’t been able to easily differentiate between the two.

The ability to isolate the specific cells with the potential to lessen damage from osteoarthritis increases the likelihood of success for patients receiving stem cell treatment, researchers said.

Dr. Stephen Simpson, director of research at Arthritis Research UK tells ScienceDaily:

“This research is exciting and promising. Identifying specific stem cells that could help the damaged joint to repair itself takes us a step closer to our aim of developing an injectable, safe stem cell therapy for people with osteoarthritis.”

Creating stem cells

Researchers recently learned the secret recipe for creating the right kind of stem cells.

At the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences campus, scientists have uncovered a new understanding of which methods to create stem cells yield the best results. Although the power of stem cell therapy has been known for a while, researchers haven’t been sure why the treatment sometimes works in a powerful way while other results don’t achieve such lasting impact.

One reason, San Diego researchers found, is that the way a stem cell is created matters, with different methods influencing how effective the treatment is.

While the most powerful types of stem cells are human embryonic stem cells, this type is very controversial. Other ways of cultivating stem cells include somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which involves transferring genetic information from an adult cell to a blank cell, and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), a process through which scientists transform adult cells into stem cells by triggering specific genes.

In this study, researchers for the first time compared the two methods and discovered SCNT is the better method. The nuclear transfer cells more closely resemble embryonic cells than iPS cells and are less likely to contain DNA errors related to the transformation process, scientists said.

Unfortunately, the nuclear transfer process is the more difficult of the two and experiments using the process aren’t eligible for federal funds. Scientists hope the findings will improve the iPS method, which is a more readily available way to create stem cells.

Extended stem cell lifespan

Research win extends stem cells’ lifespan, expanding potential for healing.

Another type of stem cell, mesenchymal stem cells collected from bone marrow, have been used widely in clinical trials, but with underwhelming results. Scientists are hard at work to overcome the key issue of making sure the cells stay alive long enough to promote regeneration.

Researchers at Harvard University discovered one way to do this that involves adding cells that form blood vessels to the stem cells during treatment. Trials with mice revealed the blood vessel-forming cells kept the stem cells alive for weeks instead of hours. Much research in this area needs to be done, but researchers celebrated the findings as promising.

Cutting-edge stem cell research takes place right here in Arizona

At Arizona Pain Stem Cell Institute, patients have access to ongoing research trials assessing the potential of stem cells to diminish chronic pain.

Because the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved stem cell therapy as a treatment, insurance considers the procedure experimental and does not pay for it. Patients wishing to receive the therapy must pay out of pocket. However, qualifying patients who participate in medical studies at our office may receive money to pay for the treatment.

Ongoing trials include the stem cell therapy study, which involves patients who are experiencing moderate to severe chronic pain in the lower back or extremities. Pain must have been present for at least three months. The test treatment includes an injection of autologous stem cells, which come from bone marrow concentrate.

Another trial at the Stem Cell Institute is evaluating the potential of stem cells to treat degenerative disc disease, a cause of low back pain. The Institute is one of 15 sites participating in this groundbreaking research that seeks to analyze the benefit of stem cells for helping the painful condition.

This trial involves stem cells collected from bone marrow of healthy adult donors. Although Phase II of the study has ended, a third phase is now being planned.

As for Mickey, the patient whose shoulder gave out after decades of overuse, stem cell treatment changed his life. He received six injections—a big dose for the significant damage present—and 20 minutes later was essentially pain free.

Mickey says activities like golfing leave him in a little pain, but nothing like he experienced before. He says:

“I’m not going to be doing any weightlifting. I’m not going to be doing any climbing, but what I do have is pain relief.”

What do you think about the possibility of stem cells to treat chronic pain?

Image by Lwp Kommunikacio via Flickr

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