What is a Stem Cell?
The various tissues of the body are made up of different types of cells (such as nerve cells, fat cells, muscle cells, etc.). As cells need to be replaced, these individual cells divide to create new cells of the same type: muscle cells create new muscle cells, skin cells create new skin cells, and so on. However, if you trace the lineage of those specific types of cells back far enough, you would find that they came from cells that were not specific to one type of body tissue — they had the potential to become many or even all of the other types of cells. Those versatile cells are called stem cells.
Stem cells are often associated with embryos and fetal development, as stem cells are abundant during this period. Research on the use of embryonic stem cells has been controversial. However, there are other sources of stem cells. For example, stem cells are present after birth. Even adults have stem cells in their bodies, though the concentration declines with age. These cells are known as “adult stem cells.” In other cases, researchers have been able to modify mature cells so that they can specialize into other types of cells. These cells are known as “induced stem cells.”
History of stem cell treatments
Though researchers previously believed that such cells existed, the multipotency of stem cells was demonstrated in 1963.1 By the late 1960s, researchers were using the bone marrow, which contains a high concentration of stem cells, as a source of stem cells to treat conditions such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia.
How Do Stem Cells Work in Stem Cell Therapy?
Though the body continues to contain stem cells throughout adulthood, the concentration throughout most of the body is relatively low. Thus, they may not be present in the particular part of the body where they are needed the most. Stem cell therapy is about concentrating and delivering stem cells to the right part of the body. There are different ways of doing this.
- Autologous Stem Cells. Some forms of stem cell treatment use stem cells from a person’s own body to treat a condition. Tissues containing stem cells, such as fat, bone marrow or blood, must be extracted from the body. Then the stem cells can be concentrated and the stem cell concentrate can be injected at the treatment site (for example, a degenerated knee joint) in the same person’s body.
- Stem Cell Allograft. Stem cells can also come from a donor. Unlike other tissues in which the donor must be matched to the recipient for compatibility, stem cells do not cause the immune reaction that can lead to rejection. This makes them ideal for treating other people. The same extraction process is used in a stem cell allograft, but the stem cells must typically be preserved until the recipient is ready to be treated.
Once stem cells reach the treatment site, they specialize into the cells composing specific tissues, for example cartilage or tendons. This enables the tissues of an organ or body part that have been damaged or degenerated to repair. Once the stem cells specialize, the new cells can continue to divide leading to regeneration and potentially reduced pain and improved functioning over the course of months.
We are offering Stem Cell Therapy at a subsidized rate through research studies. One study will assess the efficacy of this treatment in alleviating the pain caused by degeneration of joints in the lower back. Another study will measure the efficacy of Stem Cell Therapy for treating degeneration of joints of the upper and lower extremities (e.g., shoulders, elbows, hips, knees). Patients qualifying for one of these studies will receive a substantial reduction in the treatment price, as the Arizona Pain Stem Cell Institute is subsidizing the price for the purpose of the study. Patients’ pain scores, activities of daily living, and medication usage will be assessed both before treatment and over the six months after treatment.
The stem cell treatment used in this study uses autologous stem cells, meaning they come from the patient themselves. These stem cells come from bone marrow extracted from the patient’s hip bone. The stem cells in the bone marrow are then concentrated and injected into the degenerated joint. This bone marrow extraction and injection is done in a single outpatient procedure.
Risks and Complications
Because the stem cells used in these studies are derived from the patient’s own bone marrow, risks related to donor compatibility and rejection of cells are avoided. However, like any type of procedure, there are risks associated with the extraction of bone marrow and the injection of stem cells, including irritation or pain at the sites of extraction and injection or possibly infection. Discuss these with your health care provider prior to getting this procedure.
Because many patients’ painful conditions are adequately addressed by conservative treatments, we recommend that patients pursue this treatment only if they continue to experience moderate to extreme pain after trying conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen).
What should you expect?
Though research on stem cell therapy continues, there are promising results of to date of its efficacy for regenerating tissues and relieving symptoms for a number of conditions including joint repair.2 Based on the available research, we believe stem cells will be effective in relieving pain for many patients. Regeneration from stem cells takes place gradually. After receiving stem cell therapy, it may a few months for patients to notice the results. Further, as with any treatment for pain, not every patient will have success with this treatment.
- Becker AJ, McCulloch EA, Till JE. Cytological demonstration of the clonal nature of spleen colonies derived from transplanted mouse marrow cells. Nature 1963;197:452-4.
- Kamei G, Kobayashi T, Ohkawa S, Kongcharoensombat W, Adachi N, Takazawa K, Shibuya H, Deie M, Hattori K, Goldberg JL, Ochi M. Articular cartilage repair with magnetic mesenchymal stem cells. Am J Sports Med 2013 Apr 19. [epub ahead of print]