Physical strain, injury, aging, and other medical conditions can damage bodily tissues such as the lower back, knees, hips, or shoulders. After this happens, the body may not be able to heal this damage on its own, leading to chronic pain. Regenerative treatments are designed to aid the process of healing the damage that causes such pain. One such process that has been in the news recently is stem cell therapy. At Arizona Pain Specialists, we’ve launched the Arizona Pain Stem Cell Institute to help chronic pain patients access therapy and keep up-to-date with the latest stem cell research. The growing Arizona stem cell therapy field is fascinating. We’ve outlined some of its key developments here.
What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cells are cells capable of differentiating into many different types of body tissues (bone, muscle, skin, organs, etc.) depending on the surrounding cells. These cells are involved not only in early development, but also in our ability to heal throughout our lifespans. The philosophy underlying stem cell therapy marks an entirely new approach to medicine—helping the body heal itself.
Stem cells can have somewhat different properties depending on where they are obtained. Stem cells are often associated with human embryos. However, they can also be safely obtained from placental or amniotic tissues collected at childbirth. They can also be taken from different parts of the adult body, such as bone marrow, fat, or blood. Stem cells also differ in that they may be obtained. They can come from a donor (allograft) or they can come from the same person receiving the treatment (autograft).
Adult stem cells offer exciting potential in the expanding frontier of stem cell therapy. Stem cells achieve this miraculous feat by quickly integrating themselves with surrounding tissue and taking on the identity of surrounding cells. This same process is being applied to chronic pain conditions that resist treatment, such as osteoarthritis, compression fractures, and degenerative disc disease.
Stem cell therapy: A cutting-edge regenerative medicine technique
Stem cell therapy is part of a growing field called regenerative medicine. Within this branch of medicine, researchers are discovering how to encourage damaged tissue or cartilage to repair itself. This type of medicine accentuates the body’s innate ability to heal and regenerate, just as an incision heals after surgery or a bone heals after a break. Other regenerative therapy techniques include:
- Amniotic tissue therapy
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy
- Fibrin sealants
In traditional medicine, doctors have relied on surgically removing damaged parts. Stem cell research and research into these other regenerative medicine techniques may soon reduce the need for such drastic measures.
For example, stem cell therapy may offer alternatives for people considering shoulder or hip replacement. Instead of undergoing surgery, which may not offer full relief and requires a long recovery period, a patient would receive an injection of stem cells. The cells would then transform into the type of tissue needed for repair and heal any damage present.
The potential for this medicine is enormous, but it’s still in the very early stages. Scientists are working to understand how stem cells work so that their powers can be reliably directed to heal damaged lungs, hips, shoulders, vertebral discs, and other parts of the body.
Amniotic tissue therapy
Amniotic tissues can be collected at birth without harm to the infant or mother. These tissues not only contain stem cells, but also a matrix of connective tissues. When placed at the site of an injury, this collagen matrix assists the body in regenerating by serving as scaffolding that new tissues are built around.
At Arizona Pain Stem Cell Institute, we offer treatments with injections of AmnioGenic FLOW Therapy, an Applied Biologics product. This involves the injection of amniotic tissues that are collected during planned caesarian births, screened for safety, and preserved.
Platelet-rich plasma therapy
Platelets are a component of blood that are often associated with closing a wound to stop bleeding. Platelets also help healing in other ways. For example, they are full of growth factors and proteins that the body uses in rebuilding tissues.
Platelet-rich plasma therapy is based around concentrating platelets, along with the associated healing factors, at a location in the body where they are needed most. This is done by drawing a small volume of blood from the patient. This blood is placed in a centrifuge to separate it into different components: red blood cells, platelet-rich plasma, and platelet-poor plasma. The platelet-rich plasma is extracted and injected back into the patient at the site, where healing is desired. This could be into an arthritic knee, for example, or an injured shoulder or elbow.
Finally, fibrin is a protein that forms a platelet-entangling mesh over tears in bodily tissues. This is crucial element for forming blood clots and stopping bleeding. Some chronically painful conditions can be caused by a tear that does not heal on its own. For example, tears in the discs separating the vertebrae of the spine often cause pain. By applying a fibrin sealant directly to the site of the tear, this can create a natural adhesive that binds and closes the tear.
Stem cell research findings
New frontiers of medicine like stem cell research offer hope for people with difficult-to-treat chronic pain. Many patients have struggled for years, trying treatment after treatment without feeling any improvement. Often, treatments are designed to manage pain, which doesn’t address its root cause. Scientists are only beginning to unravel the many mysteries of stem cells, which are blank biological canvases with the ability to transform into any type of tissue.
Although stem cell therapy is still emerging, it has shown much promise. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved it, but there are many clinical trials underway that accept patients looking to access this cutting-edge treatment for select conditions, such as failed back surgery, compression fractures, and osteoarthritis. It is also beginning to show promise for knee pain patients, according to a report from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery discussing the use of stem cell therapy for knee pain.
Failed back surgery
People typically resort to back surgery only when their pain is immense and all other methods of pain management have failed them. Despite the drastic nature of back surgery, some people find that it does not heal them, or they experience side effects that cause additional pain.
For example, sometimes scar tissue develops that leads to lower back pain. Other potential consequences include impaired joint function and weakened vertebral discs that cause additional pain. Stem cell research is increasingly being conducted to find options to help people avoid back surgery or help them heal from failed operations.
Compression fractures develop when the spine compacts, resulting in pressure that cracks the vertebrae. The painful condition frequently develops later in life as a side effect from the weakened bones of osteoporosis, or it may happen after a back injury. Compression fractures also can develop after the long-term use of corticosteroids.
Stem cells have the potential to help these painful fractures heal.
Herniated discs are those that sustain an injury and become swollen or torn as a result. Once enlarged, they put pressure on the surrounding spinal column and nerves, creating a significant amount of pain. Repairing these discs typically involves surgery to remove the damaged section of vertebrae. Surgery is not without dangers, however, and may result in additional weakened discs, exacerbating the danger for a future problem.
Stem cell therapy, on the other hand, has shown promise to heal herniated discs without surgery.
Painful osteoarthritis, which can develop in any joint, results from degenerating cartilage. It’s a progressive condition, which means it usually worsens over time. Treatments are few and most focus on alleviating pain and not improving the condition of the affected joint.
Stem cell research, however, is beginning to show how this therapy could help people’s joints repair, helping them to move freely and once again enjoy a high quality of life. Regenerative medicine, like platelet-rich plasma therapy, can also be helpful.
Surprisingly, research from the American Physiological Society has also uncovered a new application for stem cell therapy that could expand the pool of donor lungs available for transplant. The discovery could save thousands of lives and underscores the untapped potential of this powerful treatment. The study revealed the ability of stem cells to repair damaged lungs that were originally rejected for transplant, restoring them to full functioning.
Amid an incredible shortage of donor lungs, a team of researchers in northern California set out to see if they could repair damaged organs to increase the available pool. For the nearly 1,650 people in the U.S. waiting for a lung transplant, long wait times leave them with a mortality rate of up to 40%.
Lung transplants are fairly successful. 78% percent of patients survive the first year, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Despite the relative success, patients are exposed to significant risks including infection and the threat of the body rejecting the foreign organ. In those cases, the immune system views the new lung as a threat. It then creates antibodies designed to kill the perceived invader. Patients receive immune-suppressing medications following transplants, but sometimes this precautionary step is not enough.
Because of the risks involved, doctors work to make sure patients receive top-functioning lungs to increase the likelihood of a successful transplant. This limits the pool of available organs. During the study, researchers found about 50% of the rejected lungs were affected by excess fluid retention. Scientists infused the lungs with mesenchymal stem cells—adult stem cells found in bone marrow—intravenously. They found the cells helped regenerate the organ, potentially making it available to save someone’s life.
Cautions of stem cell research
The results of stem cell research and other regenerative treatments have been promising. We feel these treatments will represent an important component of pain medicine in the future. For example, you can find the positive results of our revolutionary stem cell study for chronic lower back pain here.
But do note that even with new stem cell research coming out, regenerative treatments are still at the forefront of medicine. Because of this, they are often considered experimental and most insurance companies do not cover their use. In some cases, a clinical trial can pay for the cost of the treatment. Other studies will cover part of the cost, but patients must still cover some of the cost of the treatment. But, because regenerative treatments are experimental, doctors often recommend patients try other treatments first. However, for patients who have tried other treatments and continue to live with pain, regenerative treatments may offer an option for relief.
For more detailed information about these treatments and other stem cell research findings, visit Azstemcell.com for more information. You can also contact one of our pain specialists to learn if stem cell therapy could be a good option for reducing your pain.
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