(Almost) Everything You Wanted to Know About Stem Cells But Were Afraid to Ask
Stem cells have captured the interest of biology nerds, armchair practitioners and everyday individuals for years. Where exactly do they come from and how do they work? When can I have my torn rotary cuff/bum knee /arthritis /(fill in the blank) treated with stem cells? At Global Stem Cells Group, we are making stem cell treatments for a variety of medical conditions available in the physician’s office and out-patient treatment clinics worldwide, and we’re aiming to make them readily available in the U.S. soon, so hang tight.
So, what is a stem cell, you ask?
A stem cell is a cell characterized by its ability to self-renew, and its ability to differentiate (change) along multiple pathways. This means a stem cell able is to form specialized cells identical to the cells needed for treatments. For instance, stem cells can become muscle cells, heart cells, skin cells, etc. through stimulation and manipulation via changing chemical environments or genetic triggers. Stem cell physicians know all the tricks to manipulating these uncommitted little units of the body’s rawest materials, and the cells obey!
So, where to find stem cells when you need them?
Different types of stem cells come different sources. We like adult adipose-derived stem cells, which are found in abundance in fat—something there seems to be no shortage of! They can be harvested fairly quickly and painlessly from human body fat, which makes them plentiful and readily available. Each liter of fat produces hundreds of millions of potential stem cells. Other stem cells in the body have been examined for their ability to culture usable induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells or iPSCs), which are a type of stem cell that can be generated directly from adult cells.
Adult adipose (fat) stem cells appear to be especially prepped for their job, as they are capable of turning into fat, heart, bone or muscle tissue. We know that these fat cells are multipotent, which means they have the ability to self-renew for long periods of time and differentiate into specialized cells with specific functions, thus creating other types of cells.
Today, Global Stem Cells Group has a validated, compliant outpatient method to provide adipose-derived stem cells, as well as bone marrow-derived stem cells, to physicians for use in in-office procedures. We have trained approximately 500 physicians who are currently offering stem cell therapies in their offices and clinics worldwide, and we’ve only scratched the surface.
So, how exactly do they work?
The concept of stem cell medicine involves the ability to harness the body’s own healing potential to reverse some of the effects of age, degenerative disease and injuries. In other words, we “tell” the stem cells what your body used to be able to do, or how it used to appear, and we have them replicate those youthful, vigorous cells that have not weathered the years or injuries so well. We often use stem cell therapy interchangeably with regenerative medicine, but this is just one small component of stem cell therapy. We believe the field is going to continue to evolve and move forward, and we’ll be able to combine different techniques to create a truly regenerative response to treatments in patients. The term “stem cell therapy” will eventually become outdated, like when your parents say “groovy.” or “make me a carbon copy.” Instead we will combine techniques like gene therapy and cell therapy in cancers, biologics, scaffolding and delivery systems.
We have really focused on this future in regenerative medicine, combining cellular and gene therapies for use in patients. Everyone in the field is pretty excited about its future, and we believe that regenerative medicine is going to transform medicine as we know it. This is the next big wave for patients who are searching for solutions to their medical needs, but finding few solutions. It’s the 21st century’s version of the polio vaccine, organ transplant and the discovery of antibiotics all rolled up into one—and then some!