There is a lot of buzz these days on the topic of stem cells. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief introduction on stem cells and clarify some of the potentially confusing information available to the reader performing a generic Google search on the topic.
What is Regenerative Medicine?
Stem cell therapy falls into a broader category of regenerative medicine. What is regenerative medicine? As defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH), it is “the process of creating living, functional tissues to repair or replace tissue or organ function lost due to age, disease, damage, or congenital defects.” In the field of regenerative medicine, stem cells provide an incredible capacity for tissue regeneration.
Characteristics of Stem Cells
Stem cells provide at least 3 distinctly helpful characteristics that are thought to aid in helping with the symptoms that patients experience:
- Regenerative – In fact, it is a primary role of a stem cell to heal tissue.
- ImmunoModulatory – This term means that a stem cell can modulate the immune response.
- Anti-inflammatory – In other words, they can reduce inflammation.
Given these 3 characteristics, one could postulate that stem cell therapy could benefit patients with many different maladies. In fact, this is what we hear from our patients that have received stem cell therapy.
Sources of Stem Cells
Stem cells can be harvested from multiple locations. Those locations fall into two broad categories:
- Autologous – These stem cells come from you directly. Sources for autologous stem cells include bone marrow or fat tissue from your own body.
- Allogeneic – These stem cells come from a donor. Sources for allogeneic stem cells include amniotic fluid, amniotic membrane, umbilical cord blood, and Wharton’s Jelly (a tissue that surrounds the umbilical cord vessels).
All these sources have potential positives and negatives. What is ultimately chosen for a patient is dependent on medical evaluation of the patient’s health history and ultimate goals of treatment. Barring a contraindication for treatment, stem cell therapy is an elective treatment.